Looking back a year later
CHICKEN BASKET Sammy Breland, job superintendent for Breland Construction Inc. of Union, and Curtis Blackburn, job foreman for the Chicken Basket site, discuss placement of the new restaurant's exit. Chicken Basket had its grand opening Thursday, one day before the anniversary of last year's tornado in Newton a storm that demolished the building and several other properties. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Dec. 19, 2003
A brand new Chicken Basket restaurant opened for business in Newton Thursday.
One year ago today, the restaurant, in its previous location nearby, was demolished by a tornado with 150 mph winds.
Norma Mills, the manager, remembers a customer had a cream-colored pickup truck in the parking lot that day.
She said another customer sitting close to a window headed for the restroom as a wall gave way.
Chicken Basket staff and customers made it out the back door of the restaurant as gas lines ruptured around them. The area was cleared quickly and blocked off by emergency responders.
Newton Mayor Hamp Beatty said the Chicken Basket is one of several businesses that has bounced back in the aftermath of a devastating tornado that hit Newton on Dec. 19, 2002.
About 50 people were hurt, most of them sustaining minor injuries. Nobody died.
Many of the people injured were Christmas shoppers cut by flying glass that shattered in the front of the the Wal-Mart. Other businesses destroyed included the Sonic Drive-In, a BP Gas Station, a Speedway convenience store, Bounds Farm and Garden and a Sunflower Grocery store. The La-Z-Boy manufacturing plant also received some damage.
All of the 1,700 Mississippi Power customers in Newton lost electricity. The Newton Municipal School office also was destroyed and one wall of the Newton Fire Station was blown away.
Given the large number of people who were in Wal-Mart, a strip shopping center next to it and the factory, Beatty said it was a miracle nobody was killed.
He said other plans are in the works for more business.
The day of The Storm'
When the tornado hit, Beatty was at a Christmas dinner for city employees downtown at the Newton Historic Depot.
Barbara A. Mapp, secretary for public works, said people in Newton still refer to that day as "The Storm."
Ron Davis, director of emergency management for the city of Newton, was not at the party that day. He was at home, tracking the weather through National Weather Service bulletins and rebroadcasting them for Newton County when the storm suddenly hit.
He lost power to his house.
Davis, who has worked in emergency management since the early 1970s, called the emergency response the smoothest and quickest he has ever seen.
Because so many streets were blocked by debris, Civil Air Patrol was called in through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to assess the damage from the air.
Still here, and all together
Alice Arrington and Neda McLaurin returned to their jobs at the Chicken Basket Thursday.
McLaurin also was in the restaurant when it was hit by "The Storm." She remembers her hair being covered in glass when it was all over.
Arrington had left the Chicken Basket with another co-worker to take a lunch break. They cashed their paychecks and were in a car when the tornado touched down.
Although they weren't hurt, their memories of "The Storm" have not faded. McLaurin said she had nightmares for six months.
Pamela Thornton is haunted by memories of that day, too.
She had to crawl through the wreckage of her home after large trees crashed into her house.
She said her sons, Darius, 11, and Darrin, who is 10, are just now understanding that they don't have that house anymore. Now Thornton and her husband, who were married in June, are living in Meridian. She still works at McRae's department store at Bonita Lakes Mall.