MS credit union volunteer, employee, affected by December 16 tornadoes

On Monday, December 16, 2019, Howard Austin, chairman of the board at Vickswood FCU (Redwood, MS), was at his home near Mize, MS, watching a television station’s live weather coverage of the severe storm outbreak that was moving across the state, when the weather radar indicated a tornado heading his way.

“I heard it coming, and then everything outside went white,” Austin explained. “I grabbed my little dog and ran to the bathroom and wedged us between the toilet and the wall.”

The roof came off first, then all the walls of the house blew in. Austin lay trapped, buried under the debris of his home, for more than an hour before rescue crews reached him by digging a tunnel that allowed him to crawl out. Miraculously, Austin was not seriously physically harmed.

“I don’t know how in the world the good Lord spared us,” said Austin. “I guess he wanted me to stay around a little longer.”

After the storm, one of Austin’s business cards was found more than five miles away from where it was originally picked up by the storm. The tornado took everything; the house, shop, barn, and vehicles – all destroyed.

“It was just terrible, just terrible, just destroyed everything,” said Austin. “We’re just picking through the rubbish to see if we can find anything of use left.”

The Mize tornado, which the National Weather Service Jackson labeled an EF-3, was one of nine confirmed tornadoes that struck the central and southern part of Mississippi on Monday, December 16, 2019.

About sixty miles to the east, 1st Mississippi FCU BSA/Enterprise Risk Officer Mary Ryan was with her husband at his grandmother’s house in Shubuta, MS, when the severe storm front was moving across the state. Ryan’s own home is located next door.

Ryan said they were watching the live weather broadcast, but the satellite television service went out.

“I pulled up our local television station’s app on my phone, and by the time it came up, they were saying a tornado was near us. My husband was out on the front porch at that moment, and he heard the tornado coming. He called for us all to get in the closet. We started hearing loud, cracking noises everywhere,” said Ryan.

“Then we heard an explosion,” adds Ryan. “I didn’t realize at the time that it was my own house next door, basically imploding.”

The tornado displaced the roof by about three inches, blew out the windows, and felled a tree that crushed the corner of the house. “Water, mud, dirt, and glass is everywhere,” said Ryan.

The house Ryan was in during the storm also sustained damage. A limb punched through the roof and ceiling in the living room, creating an access point for the rain to pour in. A bedroom was also damaged and took on water.

Despite the experience, Mary tried to look on the bright side.

“I normally have my Christmas shopping done by this time, but this year I didn’t,” said Ryan. “I suppose that’s a good thing; no Christmas presents got ruined.”

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