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Samaritan’s Purse volunteers from across the nation clear downed trees in Petal, Miss., after a tornado Feb. 10. Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Originally published: 2013-02-16 15:21:14
Last modified: 2013-02-18 09:27:14

Samaritan’s Purse helps in Miss.

For the second time in 2013, Samaritan’s Purse has rushed to the aid of Southern tornado victims.

On Monday, a disaster relief team arrived in Petal, Miss., just outside Hattiesburg, to assist homeowners affected by a tornado that swept through the area Sunday evening.

The tornado arrived with maximum winds of 170 mph and created a path three-quarters of a mile wide, according to the National Weather Service. Dozens of injuries were reported, but the storm took no lives.

Hundreds of homes, businesses and buildings on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi were damaged or destroyed.

Staff and volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse, the Boone-based Christian relief organization, arrived at Petal Harvey Baptist Church on Monday to begin setting up operations. By Friday, about 55 volunteers from North Carolina, California, Illinois, Florida and elsewhere had arrived to help, program manager Tony McNeil said.

McNeil said some of the small town’s most visible damage is on Main Street, where an Ace Hardware store and surrounding homes were devastated. The volunteers have worked cutting and removing downed trees, clearing debris, installing tarps on damaged roofs and helping homeowners however they can.

“A lot of people are just now getting to their homes,” McNeil said Friday. “There’s some folks that still haven’t seen their homes.”

Jerry Moretz, a volunteer from Boone, said he arrived Tuesday to see the tell-tale signs of tornado destruction.

“I know one section of houses, roofs are off, and right across the street, it hasn’t been touched,” Moretz said.

Chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also are there to assist residents with their emotional and spiritual needs. Moretz said he heard a report from one chaplain about a family of six who hid in the bathtub when the tornado blew through.

“The mother was saying the Lord’s Prayer when it went over, as loud as she could, and they didn’t get hit,” he said.

McNeil said the residents and the volunteer team are most in need of prayer. Anyone interested in contributing in other ways can visit

“It’s really emotional,” McNeil said. “You can see that they’re searching and needing, they don’t know where to turn. We’re just really blessed and fortunate when they come to Samaritan’s Purse that we can get their questions answered for them.”

The tornado came just as Samaritan’s Purse was completing its first disaster response of the year in Calhoun, Ga., where a twister touched down Jan. 30. Teams are also still present in Nassau County, N.Y., assisting victims of Hurricane Sandy.

During 2012, Samaritan’s Purse sent disaster relief teams to assist in the aftermath of seven fires, three floods, seven hurricanes and seven tornadoes, according to media relations coordinator Karina Petersen.

Petal, Miss., Mayor Hal Marx wrote on the town’s website that he was proud of the community’s response to adversity and had never been prouder to be from Petal.

“Neighbors who normally don’t have time to speak have come to each other’s aid,” he wrote. “Our churches have organized volunteer efforts to go into the affected neighborhoods, offering whatever help is needed. We have seen a true community spirit come alive.”