Today emergency officials said that three people in Alabama, two in Tennessee and nine people in Mississippi died yesterday in a huge storm that reached the South after pummeling the Central U.S. over the weekend.
The Mississippi the town of Louisville was hit hardest.
Republican State Senator Giles Ward tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that he and his family huddled in a bathroom in his home as a tornado destroyed his two-story brick house and flipped his son-in-law’s SUV upside down onto the patio.
- Giles Ward, represents Mississippi’s 18th District in the state senate. He lives in Louisville, Miss.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, President Obama returns from his trip to Asia to find his approval rating at a new low and his foreign policy under attack. He is firing back. We'll get the latest.
YOUNG: But first, the death toll from that huge storm that beat up states from Arkansas to Alabama Sunday and Monday and is heading east is rising to more than 30. In one of the most dramatic moments yesterday, a TV forecaster in Tupelo, Mississippi, was on the air live, warning his viewers that a tornado was bearing down when it bore down on his station, and he ordered everyone to shelter.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)
UNIDENTIIFIED MAN: Basement now. Let's go now.
YOUNG: They went, and left and empty TV set, quite something. They later tweeted from that basement that they were all OK. And in the small town of Louisville, Mississippi, about 100 miles away, Republican State Senator Giles Ward survived by huddling at home with his family. Senator Ward, how are you all?
STATE SENATOR GILES WARD: Well, we're doing fine, Robin. Thank you for your concern and for asking. The most important things in my life I've got, still got, and the things that are not so important are pretty well strewn all over the community.
YOUNG: Well, I suppose that's the attitude one has to take, but take us back. What happened? Did you get warning? Because we know...
WARD: Oh yes, yes.
YOUNG: Tell - what happened?
WARD: It's absolutely remarkable. We knew two days before this happened that we were coming up on a major event. And then we had a good 20 to 30 minutes advance warning that this particular cell and confirmed tornado was headed directly to our home. And our home is on the south border of the city limits, and we were pretty certain that we were in a direct line.
My wife, my daughter, her husband, our two granddaughters and our 19-year-old - believe it or not - dog is going to live to see another birthday, I think, got into an interior room, and we were tracking it. In fact, my son-in-law had his cellphone going, and he said it's less than a minute away, and they're talking about $150,000 mile an hour wind.
Sure enough, all of a sudden our ears, all of us, started just popping, painfully popping. And then the roof and the house began to shake, and all kinds of debris flying around. We had pillows and blankets, and our family is a strong - has a strong faith. So we were praying as hard as we have ever prayed, and we were spared.
It took about a minute for the whole event to take place, and then just an eerie calm. Our local hospital was heavily damaged, had to evacuate all the patients out, and of course the emergency responders correctly assigned the highest priority to that. So we were just trapped in our neighborhood, along with all of our other neighbors.
But, amazingly, everyone was in good spirits, so thankful to be alive. When I was at the operations center early this morning, there were seven confirmed fatalities in the - in our community, with still an undetermined number of individuals that were missing.
YOUNG: Seven in one town, small town - that is going to be devastating.
WARD: Well, I'll share with you one of the other more devastating parts of this tragedy. Our town has been hit hard with the recession, and it had just been announced that we were about to have a manufacturing facility to go into one of our vacant buildings, and by the fall of the year was going to be employing about 400 people in good jobs. And that building is no longer there.
Fortunately, there weren't 400 people in that building when the storm hit. So, we have to keep a good, clear perspective on things, you know.
YOUNG: It's hard to comprehend if you don't' live in that area, you know, climbing in your bathtub and having little children with you. And can you describe - we've heard it was like 30 seconds. Can you just describe that 30 seconds of being in the tornado?
WARD: Well, all I can say is it's unlike anything I could've ever imagined or described or would have thought. And the most miraculous thing is when it was all over, not one scratch on any of us. Our next-door neighbor, an elderly lady, was trapped under a whole house full - under her refrigerator, stove and a brick wall. We had to work about an hour to get her out from under that.
But she remarkably, as best I know, is OK. It just - I don't have the words to describe it, other than it's just terribly traumatic.
YOUNG: State Senator Giles Ward there in Louisville, Mississippi, at least seven people killed there, but he and his family survived. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
WARD: Robin, thank you, and thank all of your listeners in a caring nation. We are - we come together in times like this, and I have volunteers here from the - that work with me at the state capitol who have driven all morning to get here, and so we're taking care of business here.
YOUNG: Take care.
WARD: All right. Thank you Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.