National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

When It Counts The Most           

It was November 10, 2002 around 7:15 PM when Gene Whitaker and his wife Girthel were hunkered down in the middle of their three bedroom home trying to protect themselves from the approaching tornado. The National Weather Service in Jackson had issued a tornado warning for their county and it was coming right at them. The strong tornado almost totally destroyed their home. Fortunately, they were able to survive with only minor injuries, but would have everlasting memories of the terror they experienced.

Mr. Whitaker has become very weather conscious since this November tornado threatened to take all they had including their lives. As he began to pick up the pieces of his broken home he became aware of a program being offered through mitigation grants provided by the State of Mississippi that would offer assistance in building a safe room on his property. He took full advantage of this program a constructed an above ground safe room immediately behind his home.

Above ground safe room constructed inside a storage shed

                                                                                      Above ground safe room constructed inside a storage shed

His safe room was a four by eight solid concrete room with a metal door constructed within a storage building located about fifteen yards behind his house. Once construction was finished, it would be difficult for any outsider to even know the safe room was there. Mr. Whitaker knew it was there. He hoped he would never have to use it, but he felt more secure knowing it was there if he needed it.

In the early morning hours of  December 7, 2004, almost exactly two years later, the memories of the previous event became all to familiar. Mr. Whitaker was awake watching television so he could stay abreast of what was going on with the weather. At 3:41 AM the National Weather Service in Jackson issued a tornado warning for Lowndes County effective until 4:15 AM . The warning stated the tornado would be moving very close to where they lived.

 Mr. Whitaker knew what he had to do. It was time to take action. He woke up his wife and directed her to the safe room. He then called his granddaughter's husband, Randy McIntosh, who lived in a mobile home with his pregnant wife Stacy about two hundred yards behind him. Randy initially ignored the warning until a very loud clap of thunder changed his mind. Randy woke his wife and they got out of their mobile home, got in their car and drove quickly to his wife's grandfather's house. Upon arriving Randy and Stacy joined the other two parties in the safe room.

All four people sat quietly in the safe room as they could hear the devastation occurring around them. They heard the recognizable roaring sound as the tornado ripped and tug at the building. Then, all was quiet. They exited the safe room only to see that once again they had been struck by another strong tornado. Trees and debris were scattered everywhere. The mobile home where Randy and Stacy had been sleeping earlier was literally gone. They were so happy they had heeded Mr. Whitaker's warning to come and get into the safe room. All four of the occupants emerged with out a scratch on them.

The Mobile home used to sit here.


The Mobile home used to sit here.

Mr. Whitaker is a living example of how people can take positive steps to protect themselves for nature's powerful storms. He did everything right. First he had a preparedness plan. He took the effort to provide his family with a safe place to go when the weather threatened. He knew how to receive severe weather information and he knew what he should do when severe weather approached.

Because of Mr. Whitaker's efforts, his granddaughter, her husband and their unborn child are alive today. It just goes to show you we are never going to be able to stop the severe weather in Mississippi, but there are steps residents can take that will help them survive.