6th year anniversary of Hattiesburg tornado brings back memories

William Carey University's School of Business building was heavily damaged in a 2017 tornado....
William Carey University's School of Business building was heavily damaged in a 2017 tornado. (WDAM.)
Published: Jan. 21, 2023 at 6:24 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - On Jan. 21, 2017, a Category 3 tornado ripped through parts of Hattiesburg, leaving a trail of destruction.

Six years later, the day is still a painful reminder of what once was.

“I can’t describe just the absolute devastation that that neighborhood saw,” Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said. “Later on, I saw the East Jerusalem neighborhood, the same thing. Just two whole neighborhoods, gone.”

Neighborhoods and businesses were affected by the tornado, including William Carey University.

Fifty-eight of the original buildings were damaged, with six completely destroyed.

However, with community support, Carey was able to continue functioning.

“We could not have made it through this recovery if it wouldn’t have been for the help and the prayers and the financial contributions of the community and the state, at large, of Mississippi,” William Carey President Ben Burnett said. “And we could not have made it without businesses, organizations and individuals who donated a ton of money, who allowed us to recover quickly and not apply for federal money.”

The last building re-opened a year and a half ago.

“It’s just the Mississippi way that we help each other recover through things like this,” Burnett said.

Barker said the community’s support of those affected by the tornado made the difference.

“In moments of crisis, the best of our people show up,” Barker said. “They help each other. They get out and get dirty.

“We had hundreds of volunteers who came forward just to go and help people clean up their yards, put tarps on roofs. It’s the kind of grit and determination that is part of the character of this community, and we certainly saw it that day.”

Burnett extended his thanks towards all of those who made re-opening the university possible.

“Everybody in that community and through our Baptist churches, into the state at-large, they just need to know that they are a blessing to us, because it was truly the hand of God that helped us recover from this as well as our other disasters that we’ve recovered from,” Burnett said. “They just need to know that they’re a huge blessing.”

William Carey’s campus has been rebuilt and stands today as a reminder of the past and a dream of the future.

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