USM students discuss impact of Easter tornadoes


Damage from the April 12 tornadoes inside of Key’Shawn Kennedy’s house. Photo courtesy of Key’Shawn Kennedy.

Families scattered across the Pine Belt hunkered down in their homes April 15. Various EF4 and EF5 tornadoes hit the region last week with wind speeds reaching 70 miles per hour with golf ball sized hail. 

Currently, 11 people have been killed from the tornados on Sunday, in addition to nearly 30,000 people losing power. Southern Miss students shared their experiences handling this storm alongside their relatives. 

Anna Walters, a senior nursing major, talked about her experience being in the middle of a tornado with her family in Stringer.

“Before it really hit, I wasn’t expecting it,” Walters said. “I was actually about to leave my house to come back to Hattiesburg since I had a test the next day and I wasn’t getting any service. When I got in the car, I was called to come back inside and the tornado hit within 10 minutes. We were all in a closet and, after it was over, our entire roof was gone and our house was destroyed. The only thing left was the closet and some walls.” 

Inside the closet, Walters was with her niece and sister, while her mother and brother-in-law stayed outside holding the door closed. 

“It was really scary. The walls were obviously shaking and you couldn’t hear anything because of the pressure of the tornado making your ears pop. The only thing we could hear was us praying with our mom and my brother-in-law yelling with things hitting the walls,” Walters said. 

Senior interdisciplinary studies major Key’Shawn Kennedy, also from Stringer, described the dangers his family faced while he was in Hattiesburg. 

“My dad sent my baby brother and mother to get in the tub next to my bedroom, he was still watching TV when the meteorologist in Jackson told Moss to look out,” Kennedy said. “It wasn’t even a minute and a half later when he saw the trees rock back and forth and, a minute later, see the trees lift out from the ground. He ran into the bathroom, and as soon as he did that, the windows started to shatter.”

 Junior biochemistry major Jonathan Heath was in similar shoes to Kennedy while at his fiancée’s family home. He heard that the home of his brother, Vincent, and his wife, McKayla, was affected in Seminary. 

“That evening, I was constantly checking the radar as the storms swept throughout the Southeast. Around 6 p.m., I texted my brother to see if they were to see if they were alright, not expecting the call I received five minutes later. It was my dad. The first thing he told me was that Vincent and McKayla were OK, but the roof of their house was missing. Relief filled my heart to hear that they were OK, but it was disheartening to listen to my father detail the extent of the damage,” Heath said. 

The full extent of the damages are not yet clear. Pine Belt families are bracing for possibly another tornado Sunday, April 19.