Thursday, January 30, 2003

Trails of Destruction

Written by: Jeff Rent
Case Filed:
1/30/03 - Newton, Mississippi
Executive Producer:
Rick Garner

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December 2002, a Thursday afternoon in the quiet town of Newton. An F2 tornado shatters the holiday spirit destroying or damaging dozens of homes and businesses including the Wal-Mart.

And in the following days and weeks, the rebuilding process had begun. Nothing new if you're from Newton. You see, this isn't the first tornado to rip through the town, it's just the latest.

Billy Rainer recalls, "The tornado then hit our house...completely destroyed it."
Mae Helen Clark says, "I just felt like all the air had gone out of me...just everything."

"It kind of instilled a fear of bad weather in me, like it did in my mother, says James Rainer.

Newton natives remembering Thanksgiving Day, 1934 - the first in a series of devastating and sometimes deadly tornadoes. Clark was with her grandparents listening to music. "The thunder just came and it thundered and lightning. It made an awful boom, boom sound. And Stanley just played that much louder and sang that much louder."

Clark says her family only learned of the tornado the next day. Their property wasn't damaged. But the Rainer brothers, who now live in Kansas, and their family weren't so lucky. Their home was reduced to rubble, in the same spot hit nearly 70 years later.

"(Where the Wal-Mart is) is our home property...where we were born and raised. (They) say lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place, but tornadoes evidently do."

And in Newton, it's apparently more than twice. Since 1934, six tornadoes have taken nearly identical paths through this town of 3900. Clark adds, "1934, '48, '76, '82 and '86...all hit on highway 80."

And they all crossed the highway within about a mile of each other. Nobody in Newton seems to know why they've got their own tornado alley. The National Weather Service says there's no scientific reason why these storms have taken similar paths. Rather, they chalk it up to bad luck.

Jim Butch, National Weather Service, says, "Granted, Newton County has had several tornadoes over the past couple of years. It could be Rankin County the next time, or it could be Madison County, or any other county. It's just more or less a flip of the coin, just where they decide to develop."

Butch says since 1950, only 23 tornadoes have ripped through Newton County. This isn't an unusually high number. But just tell that to the folks living in Newton, cleaning up and rebuilding their lives again and again.

Newton residents say they've actually been lucky when it comes to tornadoes. Only 11 people have been killed from these storms. Mae Helen Clark is writing a series of articles for The Newton Record, chronicling the history of all six tornadoes.



The article below appeared on the front page of the weekly THE NEWTON RECORD, Thursday, December 6, 1934




TORNADO VICTIMS ARE NOT FATALLY INJURED

HEAVY PROPERTY DAMAGE SEEN AFTER STORM
High Cyclone Winds Struck Newton Thursday Night; 17 Injured; Buildings Destroyed



A cyclone struck in the eastern part of Newton Thursday night about eight o'clock, injured seventeen people and completely destroyed a number of homes and quite a bit of timber. Those receiving injuries were: White - Mrs. Emma Sealey and son, Edward, Mr. and Mrs. Ollie Williams and daughter, Martha Gene, Mrs. P.L. Thompson, George Williams, Dora Lee Robinson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Emmit Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Raynor and two children; Colored - Minnie Moore, Susie Johnson, Lolo Moore and Tommy Hardy.

The Arnold Raynor and Emmit Robinson residences were completely demolished; the O.P. Williams and Lucy homes were partially destroyed; Tanner's store, Sealey's filling station, a half dozen negro Baptist Church were completely destroyed. Telephone and telegraph poles and wires were blown down, and considerable damage to other property was suffered. Lights were out in town about an hour. The cyclone was traveling northward and dipped to earth south and east of Newton, missing the main section of town by a quarter of a mile.

Practically, all of Newton's residents knew nothing about the storm until it had passed over. A heavy rain followed immediately in the wake of the storm.
After passing here the storm did quite a bit of damage in the Doolittle neighborhood, three miles north of Newton. A large barn near Mrs. Newt Doolittle's home was blown away and the front porch of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson's home was demolished. Several of the stately oaks on the T. L. Doolittle place as well as several out houses and negro homes were blown down.

All those receiving injuries were rushed to the Newton Infirmary, where they received medical attention. Mrs. George Williams and Martha Gene Williams were more seriously injured than any of the other people. Mr. Williams received a severe cut to the head, and Martha Gene suffered a broken leg. Mrs. Ollie Williams had several broken ribs. All of the injured are improving nicely at the present time.

Newton and Meridian employees of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and Southern bell telephone Company met the emergency in the praiseworthy manner than characterizes them in all similar situations. Local telephone operators did everything possible to get messages through.

A happy day of Thanksgiving marked by a general holiday, large attendance at church services, and a victory by the Newton High School over the Forest High Squad, after a successful gridiron season was turned into a day of tragedy. This was the first tornado that had struck Newton in many years.

The Ollie Williams family is temporarily domiciled in a Bracken apartment, the Emmit Robinson family is with his brother, Leo Robinson, the Lucy family is in the Phillips home and other families that lost their homes are with relatives.

Additional Resources:

Violent storm moves east across South


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Mae Helen Clark: Newton Tornado Survivor and Researcher

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Rainer Brothers: Newton Tornado Survivors

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