Adam Howard looked up to at the dark funnelling cloud and made a beeline inside the mall in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Sunday.
They were already directing patrons to stairwells, bracing for an F-4 tornado about to smack the college town right in the face.
Howard, who moved to Hattiesburg last spring as part of coach Donnie Tyndall’s new basketball staff at Southern Mississippi University, admitted it was a scary few minutes.
“The tornado was so wide,” he said. “It was three-fourths of a mile on the other side of the highway. They directed everybody to the stairwell and things calmed down for a minute. I got in my car and left the mall.”
Less than 30 minutes earlier, Howard’s biggest concern was how Southern Miss was going to break out of a two-game funk. But his thoughts turned to real-life issues in a hurry.
“It puts everything in perspective,” Howard said. “In the grand scheme of things, it can all be taken away in a blink of an eye.”
Nobody knows that better than the good folks of Morgan County and particularly West Liberty. It was nearly a year ago that a tornado wiped out that town. Recovery will be long and difficult, although a recent $30 million economic boost from the federal and state government will help the process.
But it won’t fix all the problems. It may be years, if ever, that Morgan County is good as new.
Howard remembers when the tornado struck West Liberty on March 2. He was on Tyndall’s coaching staff at Morehead State University and the Eagles were in Nashville for the OVC Tournament. The team and staff did some fundraising for the nearby community although Howard said he was on a recruiting trip at the time.
“I remember the guys talking about how bad it was there,” he said.
Some areas of Hattiesburg suffered a similar blow, although there were no reported deaths. Sixty-three were treated for injuries at hospitals and more than 300 homes and businesses were destroyed.
Tornadoes leave a lifelong impact on victims. I’m sure that will now hold true for Howard, who was fortunate enough to be unharmed. Even his home was spared, although many others in the neighborhood where he lives lost practically everything.
Howard’s parents, Rick and Chris, live in Ashland and talk to their son daily.
“Dad texted me earlier in the day and said ‘You’ve got some bad weather.’ They worry about me a little too much. I just thought, ‘They’re being parents again.’’’
What Adam found out is father knows best. He also knew he’d better call his mother as soon as he could to relieve her mind.
“I called Mom; I didn’t want her to panic,” he said. “I let her know, ‘I’m at mall in a stairway. I’ll call when it dies down a little bit.’”
Chris Howard went immediately to Facebook and asked for prayer not only for Adam, but the Hattiesburg community.
Just Mom being a mom.
They’re proud of Adam and should be. He’s part of a good story happening with Southern Miss. The Eagles were coming off a 25-win season and NCAA Tournament appearance, but lost everything. They returned fewer than Kentucky did from its national championship team.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season. But, lo and behold, Tyndall brought his coaching magic with him.
Southern Miss had carved out an 18-6 record heading into last night’s home game with Tulane. The Eagles were 7-2 in Conference USA and already own a whopping 102-46 victory over Marshall University. Southern Miss also defeated Morehead State in a strange schedule quirk when Tyndall and Howard came back to the university where they did so much good together, including an NCAA tournament win over Louisville in 2011. They also played Western Kentucky University at home. Howard played at WKU after graduating from Ashland in 2006.
Howard said Southern Mississippi’s staff and players all escaped unharmed from the tornado.
“Coach had so much going on he didn’t even know it happened,” Howard said. “I sent him a text saying, ‘I hope everything was OK.’ Thirty minutes later he sent me a text and said, ‘What’s going on?’ He had his girls in town and he was getting ready for Tulane. He was in the zone.”
It obviously takes a lot to shake Coach Tyndall, who has another Ashland connection. He’s engaged to former Ashland Kitten star Nikki Young.
Southern Miss visits Marshall on March 5.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.