WATER VALLEY–The sound of ice-covered tree limbs breaking and sounding like gunshots is one of the most vivid memories for many of the ice storm of 1994.
It began on the night of Feb. 9 as the record ice storm swept over the area on its way from Texas to the East Coast. While the storm caused major damage to trees and utilities, there were no fatalities and few injuries attributed to it. Most property damage was reported to be relatively minor, the Herald reported.
Rain began freezing on trees early that Wednesday night and the accumulated weight caused trees to either break or uproot. Both the weight of the ice and falling limbs took out electric, telephone and TV cable lines throughout the night and much of the next day. The sound of breaking trees was like being in a war zone, according to those who went through it.
Work began on restoration of services even before the storm was over and much of the business district had both power and telephone service by Thursday afternoon. But, damage was massive and complete restoration of service was not expected before early the next week. In actuality, some areas of town were without power for almost two full weeks and a few in the surrounding area went without for almost a month.
South Central Bell reported that 1,380 customers were known to be without telephone service. As of press time for the Herald’s Feb. 24 issue, TVEPA still had some 9,500 of their 22,000 customers without electrical service in the nine-county area.
Mayor Larry Hart and Aldermen Lawrence Hale, Charlie Harris, Fred White, Lowell Edwards and Sherry Johnson praised the cooperation of citizens. “We thank the people of our city for your understanding and patience. Our city crews and the out-of-town crews have put forth a tremendous effort during this trying time,” the mayor said.
Dozens of Herald readers responded to a social media request for their memories of the storm of 20 years ago.
John Malcolm Rue wrote that he remembered having a feast trying to eat all the food in the family freezer before it spoiled. “We still didn’t have power on my birthday so my mom went to a neighbor who had a gas grill and baked my birthday cake. The ice cream had melted by the time everyone got there so we had milk shakes and cake. To this day we have gas heat, a gas cook stove and a generator all because of ’94.”
Sharon Harrison commented that she remembered her mother, Willie Pass, cooking on the fireplace out on Campground Road. “I was one of the few that had power in the city because my circuit was on the same one as the jail.”
She remembered having lots of visitors who came to take hot showers, cook and wash clothes. “Made you appreciate what you had.”
Jackqueline White Bon-ner’s family was stranded on a back road and she recalled trying to get to her mother’s house on the first day of the storm. “Trees fell all around us and blocked us in. Strangers (she described them as angels) came to our rescue.”
Kim Brassell-Chapman was seven in 1994. “I remember being without lights. My daddy cooked food on the grill. We had a wood heater so that’s how we stayed warm. I also remember hearing the trees fall because of the ice.”
Ticy Johnson wrote that about 20 of her family members, “piled up in my grandparents four bedroom house. It was like a big sleepover for us kids.”
“On that first day we drove to Abbeville to my grandparents house,” Laura Allgood wrote. “We were stuck at the bottom of Graham Lake road due to all the trees down. My grandfather had to drive down on a tractor from his house at the top of the road cutting limbs as he came down the road.”
Karen VanWinkle lived on Wood Street at the time. “Our house was also on the same circuit as the jail, so we never lost power. For days, we cooked for all our friends and they would drop in to eat and use our shower.”
“We also housed several freezers that people brought over to plug in because they didn’t want to lose all their food,” she added. “I remember lots of kids running up and down the stairs playing because our house was warm and had TV. Although it was terrible outside, we were happy inside.”
Kristy Colvin was in the 5th grade and she and her parents, Gary Kelly and Sheila Hale, lived on Camp Ground Road. “The day before the ice storm hit, something told my dad to get a gas heater put in because we only had electric heat. That next morning I woke up to ice everywhere. We had no electricity and we had trees everywhere around us breaking and sounding like cannons.”
She remembered a huge oak tree falling right next to where her mom was cooking outside on the grill. “We didn’t have electricity for a week and as a kid it was very boring. I also remember the wonderful electric department working day and night to try to restore everyone’s power. My dad and grandfather, Lawrence Hale, helped them daily. The scariest part for me was laying down at night in dead silence and listening to the trees crash all around you. I’ve still to this day never seen that much ice everywhere.”
Sandra Daniels wrote that she remembered being without lights for weeks, but her family did have gas for heat. “My parents’ lights were back on before ours. So we all were over there for food and just mainly family fun times. You could hear the trees breaking and sounding like a gun going off. It made you think how blessed you are.”
Pam Jeffers Upchurch was working the night shift in Grenada on Feb. 9. “I was driving home that morning. The trees looked ‘funny,’ I remember thinking. They were escorting the bus from Grenada to Coffeeville and I was so scared for the children. Limbs were breaking all over.”
Emily Johnsey Childs wrote, “We lived here south of town and my mother-in-law lived out north of town and she had gas heat and a wood burning heater so we all loaded up and went out there (fishtailing our Ford Ranger truck down the bypass, I might add).”
She added that her mother-in law cooked on top of that heater. “We kept hearing noises and thought it was the electrical department coming out to fix our power lines. I decided to walk down her long driveway and see if I could see anything . On my way back up the hill to her house I start hearing this popping and crackling sound. I barely got under her carport and this huge tree fell right behind me due to the ice If I had been a few seconds slower that tree would have crushed me! Needless to say the children and myself did not venture outside after that.”
“We lived next to the Hopewell Water so our power was out for only a day,” wrote Deniese McMinn Thweatt. “We housed and cooked for many friends and family members. It was a tough time for many but a time for us to share our blessings.”
Paige Scroggins-Haley remembered having to camp in the living room to keep warm. “We were so thankful to have a wood burning stove. I also remember my dad, Thomas Scroggins, leaving the fire department to work for the city.”
Lee McMinn wrote that he woke up around daybreak to what sounded like gunshots as the trees popped and broke. “We sold out of every kind of propane related item we had at B&M Building Supply. Still today you can walk out into a pine plantation and see the L shaped trunks of some of the trees that lost there tops to the ice.”
Ann King and her family lived in a log house in the Turkey Creek area and stayed warm in one room heated by a fireplace. They cooked on a gas burner outside, which she described as feeling like “real primitive living.”
“We had gone to Tupelo for allergy appointment for our then seven-year-old son and were on the way home with pine trees down in the road everywhere,” she continued. “We had to stop while someone was clearing a tree ahead of us. Suddenly all the people clearing stopped and started toward us waving their arms for us to back up. We did and narrowly avoided another tree crashing on us.”
Bobby Murphree was working as a DJ at Jackson Street Warehouse in Oxford that Wednesday night. When he finished there he headed to radio station Miss 98 to do his air shift. “I was getting ready to go on the air when the power went out at the transmitter site in Randolph. The station was off the air for several days.”
At his house in Water Valley, limbs filled the yard by the end of the day on Thursday. “Power was off only for an hour or two,” he wrote, “since the power lines on Simmons Street are part of the main feeder line. The electric department crews were cutting limbs off the trees before they fell on the lines. Took almost three days to remove all the limbs from the yard.”
Connie Sprouse recalled waking to the sound of tree limbs cracking and crashing all around her house. “We were blessed that we had no serious damage. Our power was off for about 10 days. After a few days we could see lights on about a quarter of a mile away,” she said, adding that it was frustrating see those lights, but they were on a different circuit with less line damage.
Her husband worked at Big Yank and they had power right away. “We loaded our freezer onto a trailer and he took it to work with him, plugged it up there all day and brought it home nights.”
Sprouse worked at Holley and went to work everyday. “Some of the ladies in the plant were embarrassed because we couldn’t do our hair and makeup well by lamplight or whatever light we had. We could tell who had gotten lights that day by the way they looked coming into work. Needless to say I’m never without emergency equipment now… especially a propane curling iron.”
Ronnie Stark wrote that he got up that morning to get ready to go to work at Toro in Oxford. “I could hear the pine trees breaking behind my house on Wise Street. It sounded like gunshots. As I headed to Oxford, I had to dodge trees in Hwy. 7 all of the way.”
He said they lost power and didn’t work for several days after. “We went to Mama’s house during the day, cooked on the wood stove and stayed warm. I went to Starkville to a coonhunt and brought back batteries and candles that you couldn’t find around here. Thank God for keeping us safe. I hope I never have to go through that again.”
Janice Sharp recalled there were pine trees from the hill behind their house falling on the roof. “Every time one fell it shook the house and it sounded like they were coming through the roof. After several hours of this, I had had all I could take, so I told Charles I was going to my Mom and Dad’s about five miles away.”
She wrote that her husband had been adamant about staying at their house, but he realized she was serious. “He went out and scraped a circle of ice off the windshield on the driver’s side. All four children, a friend of theirs and Charles and I piled in the pickup and slid on out there. They had a fireplace so we could get warm and heat soup to eat. Thankfully our electricity was only off several days. With 15 pine trees on our roof, we got a brand new roof.”
Jo Ann King remembered the constant crackling of trees and praying that none would fall on their house. Luckily they didn’t. “We took food in the refrigerator outside to preserve it. We cooked on the fireplace. For the short time we were without electricity, we were blessed to have First Baptist Church Christian Activities Center open for hot showers.
She added that their then six-year-old son almost went crazy without electricity. “I felt like a pioneer family and those are memories to cherish.”
Angie Brooks Hodge wrote that she got a phone call from her father, Frank Brooks, around 10 p.m. that night telling her to look at the power lines. “Ice was already getting thick. Austin was only four-months old so we packed up and went to my grandparents who lived behind us and had gas heat. I remember my dad coming the next morning to cut us out of their driveway and take us all to his house. The next days started out as a fun camp out at dad’s house because he had a generator and a gas heater they used at the farm shop. At night we would take the generator between all of our houses to plug up deep freezers.”
She added that after four or five days, it wasn’t fun anymore. “I was so glad to hear power was restored to Highway 32. The sounds of pine trees breaking, and ice hitting the tin roof of my grandparent’s tiny single wide mobile home will never leave my thoughts.”
Angel Gholson was nine months pregnant when the storm hit and she was due Feb. 13, “Thankfully she stayed put for a little while. Brought her home to a cold dark house on the 25th. My Dad begged Eddie McGee to help out with power since we lived a mile outside city lines. The 26th our power came on. I was amazed at the people – grown, childless people – who were in tears after a week with no power.”
Mary White wrote that she remembers it well. “Trees were iced over and breaking like twigs. Could barely walk on the ground without slipping and sliding cause it was so much ice, and the roads were bad. We were without electricity, water and phone for a week. We had a large wood-burning heater for heat, and we cooked on it during that week. We also ate a lot of sandwiches during that time.”
“We heated water in a teakettle so we could at least have instant coffee and take sponge baths,” she added. “We went about every 2 or 3 days to a spring, about 3 miles away, to get water. The only light we had were oil lamps and a couple of flashlights. I remember during that week bedtime was very early.”
Nancy McCachren Rogers said that she went 24 days without power. “Joel and I take care of the water system out this way and we had the water going at the well after two days. So, we opened the warehouse up and let all the neighbors come there and take showers.”
Vanessa Gilpin said that the men in the neighborhood got together and worked to clear power lines because they knew it would be a long time before the power company could get there. “I was a kid and I thought it was great that the power was off. The family had to associate with each other. We played games and told stories. It wasn’t a terrible time as we knew what to do to get what we needed.”
Luanne Taylor Brooks wrote that the Sylva Rena Community rallied together to help one another. “The Brooks men amazed me, how they selflessly worked with the electric company and water company to help clear debris to get power restored. They had generators that they would take around to neighbors so that everybody could keep their freezers frozen. After about four days when they got to our house to plug up the freezer I begged them to just forget about the freezer and let us plug up the Nintendo for the little folks. When I look back on that disastrous time, what I remember is family, laughter, community fellowship and being together.”
Cecil Ford summed it up for many in a letter to the editor she wrote at the time: “I’m sitting on the floor in front of the gas heater with three candles and a kerosene lamp writing this. I’m not cold thanks to the heater and I have a lukewarm cup of coffee, made with water from the hot water tap — I’m so blessed. No tree came through the roof, we were not hurt and as far as I know there have been no serious injuries or deaths from the storm.”