Darien McGee had been heading to the bathroom when winds akin to “a force of God” knocked him into the room.
The EF4 tornado that struck Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on March 24 roared overhead, tearing McGee’s house to rubble.
“It was like a force of God. The same force that came through here is the same force that got me out,” Darien McGee told AccuWeather National Reporter Jillian Angeline.
Bathrooms are typically viewed as one of the safer locations to shelter in during a tornado, but what might qualify as a safe shelter in a house might not hold up for a mobile home or other locations.
Similar to the stories of countless others, Dana Dew and her husband had just seconds to react before the tornado was upon them, she explained to AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.
“He jumped out of the bed, and I jumped out of the bed and he threw me in the closet and held on to me, and we rode it out,” Dana Dew told Wadell.
Rooms like closets, bathrooms and other rooms without windows are typically the go-to shelter location for people in on-site homes during a tornado. The best place to go, if possible, would be a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level.
AccuWeather Senior On-Air Meteorologist Geoff Cornish explained that knowing the acronym DUCK could be life-saving.
D — get Down to the lowest level.
U — get Under something sturdy.
C — Cover your head.
K — Keep in shelter until storm has passed.
“If you have a basement, that’s the best place to be when a tornado warning is issued,” said Cornish. “If you don’t have a basement, and that’s the case for many in the Midwest, get into a small interior room like a bathroom or closet that does not have windows [and has] multiple walls between you and the outside world.”
Silver City, Mississippi, resident Jalandria Ellis felt the house shake as she and her grandmother took shelter in their home’s bathroom on Friday, using pillows to protect themselves from any debris.
“It was frightening because being in a disaster like this, you just never know what could go wrong,” Ellis told Angeline. “But I kept faith, and we’ve got faith. That’s what pulled us through.”
The roof had been torn from Ellis’s home, and she was in the process of trying to salvage any remaining mementos. However, both Ellis and her grandmother survived the storm.
Jean Fulton thought he had time to drive the remaining two miles to return home on Friday, March 24, when severe weather descended upon Rolling Fork, Mississippi.
The wind lofted his red pickup truck into the air, causing the vehicle to barrel roll and ultimately land upside down amid debris from the tornado. The cab of the truck, however, held firm, and Fulton made it out with only a few scrapes and cuts.
“It slammed us to the ground — just picked us up, slammed us, picked us up, slammed us, just over and over and over and over,” Fulton told Wadell. “Then when we stopped, we could climb out. The truck was on its roof.”
When he and his family climbed out of the car, the wind had calmed and the rain had stopped.
“Me and my family, we was alive,” Fulton said.
Experts advise motorists should stay off the road until severe weather clears; however, if it strikes while driving, there are ways to lessen any danger.
AccuWeather Storm Warning Meteorologist William Clark warned there aren’t any completely safe options if someone is driving near a tornado, just less dangerous ones.
This includes never seeking shelter under a bridge or overpass, which can amplify the speeds of the winds and offer little to no protection from flying debris.
“The safest option is always to seek shelter in a sturdy structure, especially underground,” Clark said. “This can be achieved if the tornado is visible at a far distance and there is light traffic, by driving at right angles to the perceived path of the tornado and seeking shelter in a sturdy building off the roadway.”
If reaching a structure is not possible, experts recommend staying in the car with your seat belt on, getting as low as possible and finding cover. It’s essential to protect your head.
“If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine,” the National Weather Service recommends. Other hazards to be aware of when seeking shelter in a ditch is there can be debris and flooding dangers. Covering your head is still important in this scenario.
The same force of nature that tore McGee’s home apart also crushed mobile homes in the area, adding to the death toll.
Linda Herman and her mother, Luvella Herman, died when the twister tore through the mobile park where they lived, TJ Herman, the son of Luvella, told The Associated Press. At least 21 people lost their lives in Mississippi on Friday, including 13 in Sharkey County when the EF4 tornado tore through with peak winds of 170 mph, according to Mississippi Emergency Management.
On average, 72% of all tornado-related fatalities take place in homes, 54% of which are in mobile homes, according to the National Weather Service. Someone in a mobile home is 15 to 20 times more likely to be killed compared to their counterparts sheltering in a site-built home.
The American Red Cross has a list of open evacuation shelters, but residents should try to get to these locations before a tornado warning is issued for the area.
Produced in association with AccuWeather