Summerfield woman survives Mississippi tornado but loses three family members
Still in shock and disoriented, Dede Duren emerged from her mobile home near Summerfield a little after 9 p.m. Friday terrified at what she saw.
Trees stripped of branches, some lay torn out of the ground, strewn around her mobile home community along with tossed cars and an endless sight of debris from twisted mobile homes knocked off their brick foundations, some completely destroyed.
But Duren was even more horrified to find that three of her family members were among those who died in a devastating tornado that tore through Mississippi Friday, claiming the lives of a reported 23 people and injuring dozens more.
Helen Munford, 54, her husband Danny Munford, 51, and son JaDarrion Murphy, 14, were found in different areas of the mobile home park. Their mobile home was picked up by the winds and torn apart, leaving residents of the small area — that included at least 20 members of Duren's family — trying to make sense of what happened.
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"I was in our mobile home with my mom, my stepfather and my two daughters and we had just finished eating dinner and our lights started flickering," Duren said. "And then it just went out. As I went to light the candle, my oldest daughter screamed, 'We got to take cover.' She grabbed her younger sister, and we all went into our bathroom."
Duren's 20-year-old daughter, Tashanda Flemming, put her younger sister, Takeydrua, in the tub and got on top of her to shield her. The rest of the family huddled on the floor near the tub as Duren described the sound as being like a "train barreling through our front yard."
"It was hectic," Duren said. "And maybe it didn't last no more than 30 seconds, but it knocked our mobile home off its brick foundation and rocked it back and forth like you'd rock a sleeping baby."
Duren, 37, said when she and her family emerged in the pitch darkness, powerlines were down, propane tanks throughout the area were seeping gas and her immediate thought was finding Helen, her first cousin and family members. But the difficulty of maneuvering around the debris went on approximately four hours before emergency workers found Helen, Danny and JaDarrion.
JaDarrion's twin brother, LaDarrion, survived and was taken to Tyler Home Memorial Hospital in nearby Winona with injuries, Duren said. Helen Munford has five older children who were not injured in the storm.
"We had to cut trees down before we were able to get to them, because trees were down everywhere," Duren said. "Anything we saw, we saw with a flashlight or cellphone lights."
Helen Munford was a school teacher at Marshall Elementary in Carrollton and also drove a school bus. Danny Munford worked for a construction company, while JaDarrion and LaDarrion Murphy were eighth-graders on the campus of J.Z. George High School in Carrollton.
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As the toll of the storm comes into focus, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency workers along with federal emergency workers arrived in hard-hit towns such as Rolling Fork, Silver City and Amory to begin the process of rescue and recovery.
Fatalities were reported in Sharkey, Humphreys and Monroe counties, and city officials in Rolling Fork said there are 18 confirmed casualties, including a married couple, L.A. and Melissa Pierce, and an unconfirmed number of people missing. The initial tornado touched down for at least 80 miles and the storm remained dangerous on a path of about 200 miles across Mississippi, moving northeast into parts of Alabama.
A mixture of relief and grief overcame Duren and her family, having lived through a nightmare of a night only to find family members who didn't.
"Mrs. Munford was loved by everybody," Duren said. "But this family is going to have to stick together. We're just left with the memories of them that we'll have to take with us and try to live day-by-day like she'd want us to do."
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi tornado deaths: Summerfield woman loses 3 family members