I spent the first 30 years of my life living in northeast Oklahoma, America’s original tornado alley.
In fact, two of the 10 deadliest tornadoes in Oklahoma history touched down in the county where I was born and raised.
Tornado drills at school were commonplace and we grew accustomed to hearing the sirens being tested at noon each and every Wednesday.
Backyard cellars littered the neighborhoods and almost everyone I knew had a tornado story to tell.
But when it comes to tornadoes, Mississippi is definitely the Sooner State’s kindred spirit.
In fact, three of the 10 deadliest tornadoes in United States history touched down in Mississippi – including the deadly Purvis tornado of 1908 that claimed the lives of 143 people and injured another 770.
When that deadly storm finally subsided, it was said only seven houses in Purvis were left standing.
Fortunately, advancements in weather forecasting and the further development of technology has helped curb countless deaths in recent years.
For news departments like ours, weather events like these are an opportunity for us to roll up our sleeves to showcase the best of what our region has to offer.
As it is often pointed out during times like these, the South – and specifically the Pine Belt – knows how to overcome adversity – specifically when it comes to tragedy.
We proved it after Hurricane Katrina and again following the 2013 tornado and two years later when two Hattiesburg police officers were killed in the line of duty.
But as it is also often pointed out, the unity and support we offer one another during our darkest hours often disappears along with the blue tarps.
Using a weather analogy, it’s figuring out how to capture that lightning in a bottle that seems to elude us.
Weak-minded, opinionated men like State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican member of the Tea Party from nearby Ellisville, don’t help matters. While his Pine Belt neighbors were still busy digging through the rubble of what was left of their lives, McDaniel took to social media to get political about Saturday’s women’s march in Washington and elsewhere.
Regardless of his personal feelings about the protests, Saturday was not the time for McDaniel to thrust himself into the spotlight, which has now garnered him – and our state – negative attention from coast to coast.
Even Petal Mayor Hal Marx, an often polarizing figure in his own right, wasn’t foolish enough to enter that fray. Why? Because at the end of the day, even Marx knows that community trumps politics. Pun intended.
Fortunately, overcoming adversity in the face of tragedy is one of the Pine Belt’s best traits and on weeks like this, not even the stooge from Ellisville is going to change that.
David Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered editor and publisher of The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times, and The Petal News.
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