Jackson Resident Shirley B. Johnson Shares Devastation from the Mississippi Tornado that Ripped Through Rolling Fork

The utter devastation by tornado. Photos by Jay Johnson

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,
Contributing Writer,

Shirley B. Johnson

On Friday night, March 24, 2023, residents in the small predominantly Black town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi (comprising nearly 1,800) were impacted by a deadly tornado that carried wind gusts of over 166 mph and took the lives of 13. Eight of those killed were in a mobile home.
Like many Jackson residents from Rolling Fork, Shirley B. Johnson has recollections and feelings of ambivalence. A telephone interview with her revealed that her heart was restless, and continues to be, after learning from the media and loved ones the impact of the storm.
“To see all the devastation does no justice [from watching the news. I have brothers and sisters and other family members there]. You can perhaps imagine that first night. My sister finally called me, and I was asking how everyone was. She told me that all were okay except our one brother who lived there behind Chuck’s Dairy Bar.
“My sister heard all the glass shattering in her sunroom. She crawled in her son’s closet and heard that horrible train sound. It was dark, and this huge tree was down in her yard across the street. Everything was demolished. She called her daughter, and the shingles were falling from the roof,” said Johnson.
The interviewee noted in her continuation that the following establishments were destroyed in just a matter of seconds: Chuck’s Dairy Bar; Mississippi Farm Bureau; Service Lumbar Company; Mississippi Agriculture Center; Delta View (Air B & B); Marchie Mexican Grill; Britton Furniture; Family Dollar Store; the police station; the county courthouse; the library; two motels and houses. Entire blocks were flattened; vehicles were flipped on their sides and turned upside down.

Johnson on two-wheeler with her brother, Curtis Bee viewing devastation

Johnson and a cousin in Greenville called all the hospitals, but there was no trace of her brother. Two cousins came from Greenville and checked the rubbish, but they didn’t find him. He didn’t answer his phone when he was called. Eventually, he telephoned from a friend’s house, and that allayed the family’s fears. The brother explained that when the storm started, the dog jumped in the truck and covered his body, putting his paws around him.
Several of Johnson’s nephews went missing but were located following the upheaval, found alive under a bunk bed.
“In seeing all of that, you would wonder how anyone survived; yet, so many people survived. Many had no relatives and nowhere to go. They were still roaming about near their demolished homes, but it was awesome to see the community come together and try to help one another. [The five-year-old bank, however, was still standing],” Johnson recollected.
What does Johnson believe? What gives her hope? “By the grace of God’s rebuilding process, I know these people are going to live better than they’ve ever lived before,” she shared with confidence.
Emotionally, the respondent surmised that the family was okay, but they still wake up sweaty. They still recall what happened. “On the surface,” Johnson said, “all are okay, but they are needing some psychological help.”
Johnson added that while she can’t afford to support all in Rolling Fork financially, she and her husband, Jay Johnson, photographer and recently retired City of Jackson employee, purchased items for her immediate family.
In her jubilance she commended FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency Administration) for “doing everything possible to make sure the Rolling Fork Community is being taken care of by going above and beyond the call of duty.”
President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi so that federal funding would go immediately to the most devastated areas. Homeland Security and Sunflower Church have stepped up to the plate. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of HS proclaimed that despite socioeconomic status, victims will be helped.
Shirley B. Johnson is Administrative Assistant, Hinds County Sheriff Office, Civil Processing (601-974-2925).

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