‘Louder than anything I remember’: Survivors recall deadline 1953 tornado

Published 11:55 pm Friday, December 1, 2023

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the 1953 Vicksburg tornado – a storm that changed the landscape of Vicksburg and killed 38 people, many of them children. It was the fourth deadliest tornado on record in Mississippi and for the survivors of the event, the memory remains fresh and vivid.
Buford (B.B.) Evans and Pam Mayfield were both 7 years old when the storm hit.

Mayfield, who birthday was the day before the storm hit, said she and her brother John Wayne Jabour had ridden the bus downtown. Her parents owned a men’s shop on the 1200 block of Washington Street – The Hub – and brother and sister were on their way to the clothing store.
But not before stopping off at the seed store.

“We stopped at Agnes Ellis’s seed store, to see the chickens. They had a tower of chickens,” Mayfield said. Other youngsters were also inside the seed store to view the caged chickens that were stacked six feet high when the weather began to “turn.”

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“The chickens started going crazy because animals know danger before we do,” Mayfield said.

At the time Mayfield and her brother were in the seed store, the owner had gone out for coffee leaving a teenager who worked there to tend the store.

“The girl knew the weather had turned, and the next thing I know she builds a fort with all the seed packages, and she said, ‘we’re going to make a fort and we’re going to get in the fort,’” Mayfield said. “And so, she put all the children that were around – I think there were three or four of us – she put us in and then she closed up the little package and we were all in the fort, which was seed packages.”

Mayfield said the tornado had been loud, “louder than anything I can remember. And the chickens were so loud. It didn’t seem like it was long (the tornado coming through), but it was loud.”

The tornado knocked out the electricity and while there was no sound coming from the storm any longer, Mayfield said she could hear glass breaking from nearby stores.

The next thing Mayfield said she remembered was her mother coming to get her and her brother.

“Holding both of our hands, she said ‘don’t step on any electric wires.’ And I have always been afraid of that since.”

Mayfield also recalled getting to her family’s store and seeing pants lying all over the floor. Her father had put them there for injured people who were being brought in to lie on. She said her father had also pulled out his Army surplus medic kit.

To this day, Mayfield said, she never knew who the teenager was that took care of them while at the feed store.

Evans, his parents, and siblings had been at Joe Wing Sing’s grocery store, which was at the corner of Openwood and Framer streets, when the weather became “stormy and noisy,” he said.

But it wasn’t until Evan’s father went to the front door of the store to throw out a cigarette that he realized it was a tornado.

“He said ‘everybody get on the floor because here comes a tornado’ and he came over and covered my sister and my brother and me up with his trench coat,” Evans said.

But being curious, his mother went to the door just as the tornado hit the building.

She was “flattened by a plate glass window” Evans said, and Wing Sing’s store was destroyed.

The noise from the storm had been intense, Evans said, “But then all of a sudden it was dead quiet, and we were looking at stars.”

Evans said they were able to pull his mother out from underneath the window and put her in the car and take her to the Mercy Hospital. There had obviously been blood from her injuries, but even so, Evans remembers her being cognitive enough to want to keep from staining the seats in the car.

“She was leaning forward, and Dad said, ‘lean back, honey.’ She said, ‘no I don’t want to get blood on the seat covers,’” Evans said, adding, “They had just put new seat covers in the car.”

Evan’s mother’s injuries had been so severe, the worst sustained by any of the other survivors, and she had to undergo 38 surgeries.
Because the tornado had hit just weeks before Christmas, Evans said, “the Red Cross made Christmas for us that year.”

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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