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Mother Nature’s wrath: Tornado takes a toll on farming community

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Tornadoes are still a way of life in these parts. Hardly a year goes by that north Mississippi isn’t hit by one or more of these destructive storms. We’re somewhat accustomed to seeing TV coverage of the damage done to houses, mobile homes, subdivisions, and other heavily populated areas when tornados hit. We less often see the impact the storms can have on more remote farm locations.

Growing up in north Mississippi, we were indoctrinated from earliest childhood that we lived in “Tornado Alley,” and many’s the time we scurried to storm cellars when the weather turned vicious.

Many years after the 1936 tornado that leveled much of Tupelo, Miss., killing more than 300 people (it is ranked the fourth deadliest in U.S. history), I remember seeing pieces of roofing tin piercing all the way through full-grown oak trees. Such was the power of the wind.

Tornadoes are still a way of life in these parts. Hardly a year goes by that north Mississippi isn’t hit by one or more of these destructive storms.

We’re somewhat accustomed to seeing TV coverage of the damage done to houses, mobile homes, subdivisions, and other heavily populated areas when tornados hit. We less often see the impact the storms can have on more remote farm locations.

Thursday, April 11, a tornado swept through areas of Kemper and Noxubee Counties in the northeastern prairie region of Mississippi, damaging or destroying some 50 homes and businesses, and several farms bore the brunt of much of its destruction.

Jay Hoover, who farms outside the town of Macon, was pretty much wiped out. The storm destroyed his lovely home, his spacious almost new 60x80 foot shop/equipment building/office, ripped apart huge grain bins (thankfully empty of last year’s grain crops), leaving only the concrete pads, totaled his combine and cotton picker, and damaged other equipment, but bypassed his six poultry houses a few hundred yards away, harming nary a chicken. (Read about his farming operation here: http://bit.ly/14M6Jme)

Thankfully, several members of his family, including young grandchildren, who were at home at the time, were warned of the storm’s proximity and were able to hop in vehicles and get clear before it hit. (A video of the storm by Stephen and Miles Johnson, which ends as it ravages the Hoover farm, is posted on the Macon Beacon website: http://on.fb.me/XL9tel)

Hoover’s neighbor, Steve Good, lost farm buildings and a several of his grain bins were scattered over a wide area, some of them blown all the way onto the Hoover farm. Other farmers in the area suffered varying losses.

A 300-foot telecom tower across the road from the Hoover home, which had stood for 30 years or more, was reduced to a heap of twisted metal. These structures are designed to withstand high winds, but this one was no match for the tornado’s brute force. The tower not only provided Internet access and other telecommunications services, it also supplied RTK signals for many farmers in the area, leaving them without that valuable service at critical planting time. (See WTVA coverage here: http://bit.ly/15i5dYm)

With frequent rains and cold temps, many of the area’s farmers were already behind with spring planting, and the tornado was an additional disruption.

“The destruction was incredible,” Hoover says. “Our fields were so littered with lumber and metal and other debris it would’ve been impossible to plant in them. A week later, when it was dry enough, we had more than 100 people who came with tractors, wagons, and all kinds of equipment to help pick up debris and haul it away. I couldn’t begin to guess how many loads were taken away.

“As soon as the tornado had passed, neighbors and friends showed up at our house in the pouring rain and helped us sort through the ruins and see what could be saved. Later, they came with tractors, loaders, and semis to help with the site cleanup. The support of the people of our community has been heartwarming.” 

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