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Red Cross Helps as Tornado Clean-up Begins

Amber Barnes recovers whatever she can from her home in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Amber Barnes recovers whatever she can from her home in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The 40 minutes sitting inside was the longest wait of my life.

Thousands of people across the Midwest and Southeast are beginning the massive clean-up after last week’s devastating storms and the American Red Cross is with them, providing shelter, food, relief supplies, health services and emotional comfort.

Here are a few stories from people who were in the path of the storm:

‘I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO DIE.’ Marshall and Mary Butler of Louisville, Mississippi, lost their home during last week’s tornado. All that is left on their property is a small concrete structure with a battered and beaten American flag secured to its wall, and a few bricks and the foundation of their former home. The small building is a storm shelter Marshall Butler built to the amusement of his neighbors. But no one was laughing when a dozen people rode out the recent storm in the shelter.

Family and neighbors waited inside the small structure for nearly an hour, waiting for someone to let them know the storm had passed. “They told me it wasn’t strong enough. They never thought it was worth my time.” Butler said. “The 40 minutes sitting inside was the longest wait of my life,” his wife said through tears as she recalled those terrifying minutes. “I thought we were all going to die.”

Disabled from scoliosis, Mary Butler says she feels lost sitting in the middle of what used to be her home. But the Red Cross is meeting with the couple to help them plan out their long term recovery.

THIS WAS THE WORST Louisville resident Sybil Pearson, 86, was home alone when the tornado tore through her neighborhood. She has eye problems and is unable to see more than a foot in front of her but was able to position herself in an inner hallway and sat on a stool, clutching a pillow.

Sitting on a lawn chair under her carport, Pearson told a Red Cross volunteer that “I have seen a lot of bad things happen in my lifetime but this was the worst. I am so grateful you took the time to come see how I was doing.” The elderly woman reported she had just finished a small enclosed porch out back. “My daughter and I never had the chance to sit and drink coffee on it. It is all gone,” she said.

Neighbors found her about an hour later sitting on her stool in the midst of what used to be her house. “I don’t know how long I stayed there,” she said. “I just waited until someone came to check on me.”

Family, friends, neighbors, and the Red Cross are rallying around the residents of Louisville to ensure people affected by the tornado get the help they need.

CLEANING UP IN TUPELO Residents in Tupelo, Mississippi are cleaning up after the storm. For Amber Barnes, clear weather is a chance to recover household items from the remains of her destroyed home. At work when the storm hit, Barnes rushed home to find the entire living area shoved off the home foundation by the winds. Luckily, the two people inside the home, including Barnes’ four-year-daughter, were able to walk away from the home after hiding underneath a couch in the living room. The Red Cross provided trash bags for items unable to be salvaged and water to family members who were helping her sort through the wreckage.

Down the road, Jerry Gable and his wife Helen heard the storm warnings and left their home and went to a relative’s house on the other side of town that had a basement. He came home to find his fishing boat moved around from the side of the house to the front, and his pick-up truck destroyed.

HOW TO HELP Those who would like to help people affected by disasters like tornadoes, floods and other crises can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. People can donate by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.