Instead of searching for that last minute gift, finalizing travel plans or simply relishing the elation and warmth in the atmosphere the week before Christmas, Mississippians in several counties are spending the week coping with losses of homes and vehicles after at least 14 tornadoes affected the state on Monday, Dec. 17.

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A damaged car parked in the front yard of a residence on Ashcot Circle in Edwards, Miss., Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. A tree fell on the car during Monday’s tornado. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

As a result of the devastation, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency, sending state aid to supplement local resources used to alleviate the hardships associated with this disaster. No tornado-related deaths were reported in Mississippi, although four people died in Louisiana, Alabama and Kentucky, according to media reports. As Mississippians wait for the government to make their next move, those in the town of Edwards are immersed rebuilding their communities.

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Edwards resident Sheria Walter talks about how members of the community have been helping each other since the Dec. 16 Tornado.

On Thursday, Von Mack, owner Von’s Tree Service and Firewood, along with two volunteers used his business’ equipment to remove fallen trees and limbs that covered nearly every foot of land surrounding a house on Staple Street. Mack and his volunteers, Carlos Jenkins and Ahmadd White, worked as hard as laborers expecting compensation at the end of a shift. But, they were not seeking a payday. 

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Von Mack in his Bobcat in Edwards, Miss., Thursday, December 19, 2019. Edwards has been helping residents of the town by using his businesses equipment to help remove fallen trees from the yards of those affected by Monday’s tornado. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

“This is not about money, this is about everybody having a good Christmas, and that is why we are here,” Mack said. “Since it (the tornado) came through here, I shut my business down and came to assist this community in every way that I can because this is my home.”

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Von Max uses his business’ equipment to remove fallen trees from a resident’s yard.

The trio didn’t wait for permission to help the residents of the small town. If they saw a yard covered in debris, they took on the task, which consumed their entire week. “This isn’t for us, this is for the community,” Carlos Jenkins said. “God gives you your blessings so you can help others.” Before the energy companies can restore power to homes, trees have to moved away from power lines. They also wanted to remove the trees so power can be restored faster; by the end of the week, Entergy’s outage map showed power restored for most of the town.

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Carlos Jenkins, left, and Ahmadd White help Von Max remove several fallen trees from the yard of a resident of Edwards, Miss., Thursday, December 19, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

A little more than a half mile from Staple Street, Zelma Davenport runs a home daycare on Ashcot Circle. She recalls the frightening tornado experience that took place that Monday afternoon as she was looking after two children.

“We were sitting in the den when we heard the tornado sirens,” Davenport said. “Within the next five minutes, we heard the trees being uprooted and we ran to the bathtub.” Davenport covered the two children with pillows and sheets to protect them. None of the children were harmed during the tornado, but Davenport received minor cuts on her leg. All of her windows were broken and large trees were toppled in her backyard. “The next day, everyone in the neighborhood came together to help board windows and place tarp on the roofs,” Davenport said. “I don’t know what they (the government) are going to do, but right now the community is coming out and helping everyone.”

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

A damaged Christmas tree outside of Zelma Davenport’s home Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 after Monday’s tornado in Edwards, Miss. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Not far from Zelma Davenport’s home and daycare, Coretta Frazier made a stop on Ashcot Circle where she unloaded and delivered donated water and nonperishable items to residents. Although she is responsible for two businesses and juggles the duties as a mother, she made it a priority to pull together resources to help her neighbors.

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Coretta Frazier, left, gives Rosa Walton distilled water Thursday, December 19, 2019, in Edwards, Miss. Frazier has been volunteering and delivering donated items to those affected by Monday’s tornado. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

“At this time, I would usually be attending a Christmas party at my kids’ school, but I decided that I should come out here and see what was needed,” Frazier said. “Being resourceful for those who need resources is usually who I am and what I do.” “Some people have probably never been through this and they don’t know what to do.”

            But, despite efforts to uplift the spirits of the community and provide resources, some are unable to salvage their homes and wait in a nightmare that nature created a week before Christmas..

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Atallya Price, a mother of four, only had her new trailer for two weeks before it was destroyed by Monday’s tornado. “If this would have happened at night, we wouldn’t have made it,” Price said. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Atallya Price, a mother of four and a new home owner, was at work when she got a frantic call from her mother. “My mom called and told me about the weather,” Price said. “But, I was not thinking that I was going to come home and actually see a tree inside of my trailer.” Price and her children moved into the trailer only two weeks before the tornado uprooted a tree, putting it down in the center of her new home. “If this would have happened at night, we wouldn’t have made it.” Price is waiting on contractors to give her an estimate so her home can be rebuilt. Her insurance provider will only pay off the cost of the home, but will not for the repairs. 

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Stairs that once led to a trailer were swept away by Monday’s tornado in Edwards, Miss. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

            According to Gov. Phil Bryant 27 counties were affected by the storm damage. Across the state, nearly 150 homes were damaged or destroyed. Some received severe injuries, but no deaths have been reported. 

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Eric J. Shelton is a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018.