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‘If They’re Dead, Go On By; We’re Looking For The Live Ones’ Editor’s Note: Mississippi State

November 22, 1992

‘If They’re Dead, Go On By; We’re Looking For The Live Ones’ Editor’s Note: Mississippi State Editor Ron Harrist has covered dozens of tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters. This time the tornado covered him as he and his wife crouched for safety in a bathtub. Here’s his story: With AM-Southern Storms

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) _ When the storm came up, you could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. The lightning was intense, and I turned to my wife Hendra and said, ″This is going to be a bad one.″

About that time, everything stopped. It was dead silence. Hendra said I’d better open a window on the north side of the house, but before I could get there, the windows blew out, and we ran to the bathroom and got in the tub.

The whole house shook. You could hear it ripping and tearing. Limbs cracked like rifle shots. I thought the whole roof was going.

I remember looking at my watch. It was 11:40 exactly, Saturday night.

Afterward I went to the window and looked out. In the darkness, we tried to see our neighbor’s house, and nothing was there.

His Cadillac was sitting 50 yards behind where the house used to be. It looked like someone had taken a can opener and slit it from door to door. I worried that maybe my neighbor had been in it.

I worried about my 15-year-old son, Andy. We didn’t know where he was, and the storm hit about the time he was supposed to be coming home from a date.

We walked down the driveway. Some one told us the storm hit the trailer park down the road. We walked over. You could hear people screaming in the dark.

I’ve covered these before, but when it’s your neighbors, it’s different. I said I ought to be covering this like I would on assignment, but I couldn’t. I was part of it.

We had little flashlights and got there before the rescue squads could get down the blocked roads. You could hear them cutting their way in.

When they arrived, the medics told us, ″If they’re dead, go on by. We’re looking for the live ones.″

They set up triage units in the middle of the streets. People were screaming and the medics were running from one to the next.

A friend of mine and I started pulling doors off mangled trailers - they weren’t really trailers any more - and the rescue workers used them for stretchers.

Karen Valentine, one of our neighbors who is a nurse, stayed with a woman, but she died. They said the hardest thing was when they lost her.

The water was up to ankle deep - boards with nails, power lines scattered around.

I came on one scene: you could tell it was child’s room, or had been. Little toys were scattered around and a handwritten sign read ″Merry Christmas,″ sitting there dry as a bone, fluttering in the breeze.

I finally walked to a phone, called the AP in Atlanta and said we have a real bad situation here; we need to get some people in. I said I’m part of the story, and I can’t cover it.

Reporters learn to cover things like this; you detach yourself from it. You see people hurt, and you’re sympathetic, but you separate yourself. You ask questions to get the story. Go on.

This time I couldn’t. I didn’t know where my son was and didn’t know whether my house would catch fire because of torn wiring.

I thought it had been only a few minutes, but it was 4:15 a.m. We finally went back to our own house. Our giant trees were blown down; a 160-year-old oak was split in two. A big pecan tree had fallen across the front of the house. Half my shed was in my swimming pool.

My son was OK. He had dropped off his date and rode out the storm at his buddy’s house.

And we were alive.

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