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Brian Bernard examines what remains of his living room Tuesday at his home in Petal, Miss. Bernard, his wife and 13-year-old daughter were hiding in a hallway when a powerful tornado hit the house Sunday.

Twister’s ruins hold prized memories

Families sift debris after Miss. storms

– Brian Bernard has spent hours since Sunday’s tornado combing through the wreckage of his family’s house in search of his daughter’s flute. It’s not worth a lot of money but it’s important to her, and that makes it invaluable to him.

Like dozens of families across Mississippi, the 51-year-old Bernard devoted hours Tuesday to rummaging through broken boards and other debris. They try to salvage whatever is left from destroyed homes, though family pictures and other items with sentimental value often mean the most.

“Some people might think I’m crazy, but you know how kids are,” Bernard said of his 13-year-old daughter, Brooklee, who plays in the band at Petal Middle School. “She loves that flute.”

The search for the flute paid off even before the instrument turned up, when Bernard found the family’s kitten under a bed Monday. They had thought the pet had been lost to the storm.

With more than 600 homes destroyed or damaged in several counties, scenes of people rummaging through debris are as familiar as the blue tarps being stretched over battered roofs to keep the rain out.

Cleanup also continues at the University of Southern Mississippi, where six buildings were damaged in the storm. And crews throughout the area are still working to clear roads and repair power lines. At least 80 people were injured in the storms.

David Dean spent Tuesday rounding up the last of the items he could salvage from his demolished home in Petal.

“It’s really just kind of sinking in today. The first time in 54 years of my life I’m homeless,” Dean said Tuesday. “But God is going to take care of it.”

Dean and his wife were at church when the tornado hit, but his two adult daughters and a future son-in-law were in the house when it was demolished.

“As soon as I got here and found out my daughters were all right, I was happy. I said, ‘Don’t worry about the house,’ ” he said.

Dean said his family will stay with relatives and friends until they figure out what to do.

“We lost a lot of sentimental stuff, but there ain’t nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Officials said despite dozens of injuries blamed on the storm, no one died. They said the human toll could have been much worse, but the nature of the storm allowed forecasters to give people ample warning. Furthermore, the University of Southern Mississippi – which was in the tornado’s path – was emptier than usual because of Mardi Gras. And some businesses were either closed or quieter than normal because it was a Sunday.

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