Rolling Fork work week begins with uncertainty after tornado disrupts everything

Willie Macon stood outside his mother-in-law’s home Monday morning making a phone call where he could get a better signal.

Passersby could hear the hum of a nearby generator in the background.

“We just got that last night,” Macon said.

The 58-year-old Rolling Fork resident said he and his wife Lucy are staying at her mother’s since their home down the street was flattened by a tornado that ripped through the town Friday night.

“There’s nothing left,” he said. “It’s all gone.”

His son, Willie Macon Jr., was badly injured in the storm. He was taken to an area hospital but was sent home because he didn’t have insurance, his father said.

Willie Macon, 58, pauses in the morning light Monday following Friday's violent tornado in Rolling Fork.
Willie Macon, 58, pauses in the morning light Monday following Friday's violent tornado in Rolling Fork.

The Macons' story is all too familiar in this Mississippi Delta town of fewer than 2,000 people. On Monday, residents were trying to sort out their lives on a day when they would have been returning to work. Many had no work to report to. Others had no way to get there. All of their lives were affected by the tornado that killed 21 across the state.

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Mississippi Emergency Management officials had previously announced 25 dead before downgrading the toll Monday. More than 24,000 people remained without power Monday morning.

Macon Sr. works in Vicksburg, but he is unable to get there, because his car was destroyed, too.

“The thing is, what we need most is housing and transportation,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of food. We are so grateful for that, but we need a place to stay and a way to get somewhere.”

A house with only a chest of drawers sits in the morning sunlight in Rolling Fork on Monday.
A house with only a chest of drawers sits in the morning sunlight in Rolling Fork on Monday.

Sixty-eight-year-old Dorothy Williams, one of many survivors of the EF-4 tornado, said the reason she survived is because of her faith in God and a spiritual wake-up call moments before the tornado hit.

“I’ve lived in Rolling Fork for 50 years and we have never experienced this amount of damage,” Williams said. “A few months before the storm hit I was remodeling my home, but the storm added additional damage. I’ve told people I heard the voice of God, which is what woke me up.”

Williams said she knows that still small voice was God because of the amount of faith she has possessed throughout her life.

“If you look around at all the damage that was done with trees being pulled out of the ground and cars flipped upside down, after that you got to know there is a God.”

Williams' brother, James Williams, lives two houses down. His home sustained some damage, but a large tree in the front yard fell parallel to the house. Most of the tree landed in the front yard. A limb from the tree damaged part of his roof.

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While survivors of the tornado are working to put the pieces back together, local churches and emergency officials are coming together to help residents find a sense of hope.

One of those entities is First Baptist Church of Flora.

Newly selected lead pastor Dontae Fontenot, 56, of Flora said being part of helping survivors is only the beginning and they are the hands and feet of Jesus.

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“We know the Bible tells us to help our brother in the time of need and that is what we have been doing since the tornado hit last Friday.”

Fontenot said people from Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin have came to donate food and water just for the city of Rolling Fork.

Volunteers came from nearby cities as well, including Lakeeta Washington, 38, and her children, 17-year-old Shaniya Washington and 14-year-old Marzavion Washington, who brought supplies from Greenville to donate to the victims in Rolling Fork.

"We are all family," Lakeeta said.

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This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Rolling Fork MS picking up pieces as jobs, housing, transit disrupted