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Storm kills 5 in Pontotoc

By Staff
Feb. 26, 2001
PONTOTOC (AP) A tornado packing winds of more than 150 miles per hour killed five people, injured dozens more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in north Mississippi, authorities said.
The five were dead on arrival at Pontotoc Hospital following the Saturday night storms. County Coroner Kim Bedford confirmed the number Sunday night after some confusion. Early reports put the number dead at seven.
Ricky Jaggers, director of Emergency Management in Pontotoc, said all the missing have been accounted for, but authorities will continue to search for more bodies today.
Victims' relatives packed hospital waiting rooms, shocked at the power unleashed by the tornado.
My cousins were in a house that got blown away,'' Bobbye Roye of Amory said by phone from a hospital in nearby Tupelo. They blew across a holler and landed on the side of another hill. They were all dead.''
The vast storm system that swept across the eastern half of the nation also dumped more than 20 inches of snow on northern Minnesota. Blowing snow closed hundreds of miles of highways in Minnesota and South Dakota.
In Arkansas, a 2-year-old boy died Sunday of injuries suffered when a twister destroyed the family's home in Fulton County on Saturday. His parents and a brother also were injured, authorities said.
Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove left meetings in Washington Sunday to see the damage for himself. He declared parts of the county a disaster area and was calling for federal assistance.
The storm followed by a week another that killed a Holmes County woman, injured more than two dozen people and damaged property in Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties.
It's a tough time for families who have lost loved ones and have had property and homes destroyed,'' Musgrove told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Tupelo airport.
James Duke, head meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Memphis, said a check of the Pontotoc County storm found evidence of a single tornado. Duke said the twister touched down in rural southwest Pontotoc County, cutting a 23-mile swatch through the town of Pontotoc.
Some of the damage looked to be a mile wide in some places,'' Pontotoc Police Chief Larry Poole said.
In Pontotoc, Johnny Seale held his wife close as their home was ripped apart around them. They survived. Other members of his family were killed. Seale lost his son, a sister and a nephew in houses only yards away.
We had been watching the news and they were predicting … that tornadoes were coming through our area, and my son-in-law called us and told us to be aware that it might be in the Randolph (community) area,'' Seale said in a telephone interview.
My wife called my sister and talked to her,'' Seale said. She told my wife that they were in the hallway.''
Seale said he soon learned his 36-year-old son, Michael Seale; sister Betty Clowers, 66, and her son, Donnie Clowers had died.
There was debris all inside the house,'' Seale said. It didn't hurt neither one of us. The good Lord took care of us.''
Billy Walker and his wife fled their mobile home in the Liberty community south of Pontotoc, then spent an hour helping a neighbor, whose home was ripped away to its foundation, search for her 4-year-old son. Walker said they eventually found the child's body some distance from the home.
Jaggers said the twister hit just after 10 p.m.
Former Pontotoc County Supervisor Keith Herring says the area looks like an atomic bomb hit it.''
North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, about 15 miles east of Pontotoc, received 25 injured from the storm, including 10 people who were transferred from Pontotoc Hospital. Two of the injured, including a child, were transferred to Memphis hospitals, while 11 others, two in critical condition, remained at the medical center.
Grice said 33 people sought treatment at Pontotoc Hospital.
There were tears in my eyes it was unbelievable,'' Tommy Wiggins, sports editor of the Pontotoc Progress weekly newspaper, said after touring the hardest-hit areas.
I've seen tornadoes before but I've never had to walk through the destruction like this time,'' Wiggins said. It honestly looked like someone dropped a bomb in there. Houses were leveled, trees splintered and people walking around in a daze trying to find their belongings.''
Wiggins said the storms appeared to concentrate on Martin Luther King Drive and East 10th Street in Pontotoc, an area of low- to moderate-income homes and mobile homes.
Jaggers said 150 people have received assistance at the Pontotoc County Agriculture Center.
The storm system that began churning its way across the Mississippi Delta and central portions of the state left behind numerous downed power lines and damaged buildings.
About 10 to 12 houses in the Benoit area on the other side of the state suffered wind damage and a few homes in Leflore County were hit hard by the storm.
The Bolivar County Courthouse also suffered damage when marble-sized hail broke four windows, authorities said. The Sheriff's Department said high winds destroyed a house in a rural community.
We've got cars run off the road in ditches,'' a sheriff's department spokeswoman said. We had 80 mile-per-hour winds.''