A popular bar near Mississippi State University in Starkville is facing controversy after its security guards told patrons to "get the [f***] out” and ushered them into the streets when a tornado was just a mile and a half away from the restaurant on Saturday. However, the owner of the pub, Bin 612, claims that security had a good reason for kicking the customers, including many college students, out into the storm.
Dillon Richmond, a recent university graduate, told the Washington Post that around 9 p.m. it had started to rain, and many people came inside the bar to escape the weather. However, at 9:45 p.m., according to the bar’s owner and chef Ty Thames, his team had started to ask people to leave as the restaurant was closing due to the weather warning.
At 9:56 p.m., a tornado warning for the area was issued by the National Weather Service. A minute later, the warning was updated with a confirmed tornado. Three minutes after that announcement, the National Weather Service confirmed a "large and extremely dangerous tornado" was nine miles southwest of Starkville, moving northeast at 40 mph, and it would arrive in less than ten minutes.
Video circulated on social media depicted a scene of chaos as the patrons butted heads with the security guards, who were hired through a third-party company called Average Joe's Security. In the footage, people can be heard asking where they are supposed to go in the storm while the guards simply insist they leave.
Thames said it was a matter of safety. "The basements can only hold about 40 to 60 people at most," Thames told the Washington Post. "Ordinarily we have about 40 or 50 people in a given night. But because it was Super Bulldog Weekend, we were pushing 250 or 300."
While 15 people were taken to the cellar, Thames said it was impossible to "pick and choose more,"adding that the cellar was dangerous as it had only a "ladderlike thing to get into it."
"People were too intoxicated to understand they were in danger there," Thames told the outlet. "It's basically wall-to-wall glass on the front and the back of the building. The only non-glass walls we have are the interior room-to-room walls. And those are lined with glass rack to hold glasses, over 300 liquor bottles, and tons of serving glasses."
With the half-mile wide EF-2 tornado just six miles away, the evacuation process continued. According to Thames, the security guards were trying to direct people across the street to an underground parking garage.
A Starkville Police Department post, shared on Facebook, stated that police were called to the scene as "approximately one hundred people were trying to fight security."
"The security guard was yelling and swearing, telling people to 'Get the [expletive] out,'" Richmond said. "A few moments later the side doors swing open (from security pushing people out). I saw a lot of people trapped in the middle of the tussle."
One customer took to Twitter to share what had transpired while she was inside, The Commercial Dispatch reported.
"I was at Bin 612 (Saturday night) when the tornado hit and everyone inside was yelled at by the people working and shoved out into the storm," she wrote. "I was forced outside when the tornado was hitting campus and had to find another place to seek shelter after getting kicked out. Not OK.”
"We certainly do not condone the language or aggressive behavior of any of the security company’s personnel or our staff," Thames shared on Facebook on the Bin 612 page on Sunday. "We know that the intent of the security personnel and our staff was to prevent serious injuries from occurring inside of glass enclosed rooms. The intent was for people to leave with time to get to a safe space, including the underground parking garage directly across the street."
He added that the restaurant will be using a different security company in the future. Yahoo Lifestyle was not able to locate Average Joe’s Security for comment.
Many on social media called out the restaurant for how it handled things on Saturday.
"How awful [you] must be to kick people out when there's a tornado," one wrote.
Another stated, "Every business should have a weather contingency plan. If they do not have a shelter, they should have closed their doors in anticipation of the weather, and not kicked patrons out last minute."
However, others came to the defense of Thames and Bin 612.
"Maybe choosing a business that is 75 percent windows as the place you want to shelter from a tornado that you knew was coming 14 hours ahead of time wasn’t the best idea?" While another shared, "Even though a storm is coming it doesn't mean it will produce a tornado in a certain place so there was no need to close early. Once a tornado is confirmed or the conditions become very bad, only then can people decide what they will do, and normally they do not have much time. If the owner felt his building wasn't a safe place during a tornado, he has every right to evacuate his building."
Thames intends to review severe weather procedures at Bin 162, and has reached out to the National Weather Service and other experts to help strengthen the severe weather plan.
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Bin 612 for comment.
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