Mississippi Christmas Week Tornado Victims Receive Donation From Storm Chaser Organization
On Monday December 23, 2014, one EF-3, one EF-2 and two EF-0 tornadoes tore apart communities in Mississippi, two days before Christmas. Four lives were lost during these events. In response to the tragic tornado event, Storm Assist held a fundraiser to obtain funds for these tornado victims. With funds, purchases and direct donations, Storm Assist was able to give $1,250 back to the victims of the Mississippi Christmas Week tornadoes.
Storm Chaser Brandon Clement made the drive to Columbia, MS on behalf of Storm Assist to deliver the donation. Here is his story:
On December 23, 2014, I intercepted a tornadic supercell in Amite, La. As I approached the rotation I was on the phone with emergency managers who were trying to get an idea what was happening on the ground. I continued to follow the storm all the way into Southern Mississippi. As I was heading east in Columbia, MS it started off looking like the town had gotten lucky and only experienced a low end tornado. However, it quickly became apparent that this tornado was significant. The farther east I went on Hwy 98, the worse the damage got. At the worst of the damage I pulled up to an ambulance that had been flipped on to another car. Two EMT’s were working really hard to get a patient into another ambulance in absolute horrid weather conditions. I pulled up to help but they were just feet from the second ambulance and at that point I knew I would simply just be slowing them down. I then proceeded to check on people still in cars along the highway that had taken a direct hit, making sure they were ok or didn’t need help. It was an exciting day as a storm chaser but unfortunately exciting days can often end in tragedy. I never hope for a tornado but if one does occur I want to witness it. If one does occur, I hope it stays away from populated areas and has little impact. If it does impact people I want to help any way I can. This is an unspoken obligation for most storm chasers and the ultimate goal is to help warn people, save lives, understand they why’s and how’s of tornadoes and help people in need.
The tornado impacted hundreds of homes and businesses, many of which were completely destroyed. It left many homeless just before Christmas. Some didn’t even have memories left to look through and their home and belongings were reduced to just a memory. The ultimate destruction came in the form of lost lives and this tornado took 4 people from their families just before Christmas and it did not discriminate taking all ages, races and classes.
A few days later I was contacted by an organization, called Storm Assist. They asked if I would be interested in presenting donations to people directly impacted by the tornado and I was honored they asked me. This was the opportunity for me to do more, to give back to those affected by the very storm I had just been so much a part of. I read about the organization and really felt their goal’s matched mine in many ways. The people volunteering for Storm Assist were also storm chasers. They understand how traumatic it can be to pull up on an area just after it was devastated by a tornado. They also understand how significant of an impact it can have on lives, families and communities.
Storm Assist took donations and sold merchandise to raise money for the people of Columbia, MS. On Saturday January 3, 2015, I was able to meet with Fire Captain Jeff Mackenzie with the Columbia Fire Department and the entire crew on shift at the station. We sat around and talked at length. They were very interested in what I do, I was interested in what they do and we all learned a lot. I showed them some different high resolution weather models and how to understand the impacts. They shared their stories from the day the tornado hit. Unfortunately, the area was once again under a tornado watch and in the highest risk area for severe weather, including tornadoes that day. They were particularly interested in how I know where to go, what to expect and how scary it can be when looking down the barrel of a dangerous storm. They discussed different types of calls they go on and we even discussed the ambulance that got hit by the tornado. The guys there said that the EMT that was driving the ambulance was transporting a 91 year old woman to a hospital about 80 miles away when they were hit by the tornado. They said the two EMT’s were amazing people and didn’t want any media attention. I’ll never forget them fighting the hardest rain, heavy winds, and total devastation to help save the very woman who was so unfortunate twice on the same day. They were telling me how they went and visited her at the hospital she was transferred to on their day off. Disasters can do horrible things but they also have a way of making heroes.
I presented the storm assist donations of $1,250 to the Fire Captain. These were a stack of envelopes with gift cards inside. He couldn’t have possibly been more sincere and thankful. He knew many people who lost everything and was so glad to see good coming to the people who had just experienced such bad. We swapped numbers, he said that any storm chaser or anyone associated with Storm Assist can stop in the fire station any time and join them for a meal. They invited me to eat and I felt horrible declining the offer, but the same storms the models were predicting were starting to get fired up. They were all really excited to see the live streams available for multiple storm chasers in the area that day. They were appreciative of storm chasers for what we offer the emergency response teams and I couldn’t be more grateful of the services these brave firemen and EMT’s provide.
It was an incredibly good day for so many. I felt extremely blessed to have the opportunity and was so appreciative of all the people who donated to make that possible. I really can’t say enough about the experience, the Storm Assist organization, its volunteers and the donors to make it all possible.