John Cline was among those trying to salvage his already damaged home as he worked to find a way to shut off a broken pipe filling his house with water. A massive pine tree about 4 feet around split his home nearly in two.
Cline had just gotten home from work Sunday when he turned on the news and realized the tornado was headed his way. He said he opened the back door and could hear the roar, so he ran to a closet in the hallway. He said it wasn't long before the tree came crashing through the ceiling and landed about 3 feet to his right. He struggled to keep the closet door closed because the wind kept pulling it open.
"I was fighting the tornado," he said.
On the USM campus, trees were snapped in half around the heavily damaged Alumni House, where part of the roof was ripped away. Windows in a nearby building were blown out, and heavy equipment worked to clear streets nearby in a heavy rain after the worst of the weather had passed.
The university was under a state of emergency and told people to stay away from campus until further notice.
Dot Peek had just arrived home about five minutes before the tornado hit and huddled in her bedroom with her son, adult grandson and other relatives. That bedroom was the only room not substantially damaged by falling trees and debris. The rest of the home was a wreck. Peek's truck was smashed; boards and debris floated in her swimming pool; a tree crushed her pontoon boat.
Peek heeded the warning of sirens, saying "they don't go off for nothing. But people who don't pay attention to them are stupid."
However, when asked if it was the alarms that saved her family, Peek shook her head and replied: "It's God. My grandson was praying as loud as he could."
McConnaughey reported from New Orleans.