Melanie Foster was at home with her 15-year-old son, Gabriel, and the family dog when a storm tore through Gulf Park Estates about midday Wednesday.
The tornado it spawned ripped through the back yards of eight homes on the north end of Beachview Drive near Blueberry Drive, tearing down fences as it went, but mostly sparing the houses themselves, save for a wooden chimney on one of them.
“It was scary,” said Stephanie Barnes, who was at her sister’s house on North 6th Street when the tornado hit. “I thought that someone was breaking in at first but it was a tornado.”
Foster said she was watching the storm when she saw a transformer catch fire. She said she heard the explosion, then watched a blue line run down the wire to the mast on the house when the electrical lines are connected to the house.
“It was like a blue surge” coming at the house, she said.
An employee of Coast Electric who was working in the area told her that had her power not already been out, the “blue surge” could have caused her house to catch fire.
“That was God’s grace,” she said.
As she watched the storm unfold in front of her, Foster said it was like a scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Then like a bullet going off, it came at us,” she said.
That’s when Foster, Gabriel and the dogs took cover.
Afterward, her husband, Terry, a Seabee with NMCB 1 stationed in Gulfport, along with another Seabee who was still dressed in his utility fatigues, began helping neighbors clear debris in the neighborhood.
Kelli Martin watched the tornado mangle three different trampolines in the yard, one wrapping around the post of the carport.
Martin grabbed her blue pit bull, Ollie, and collapsed into the bathtub, pulling him on top of her. She said it lasted just seconds.
Other Gulf Park Estates residents also were taken by surprise when a tornado came through, knocking down trees and power lines in area.
The tornado, which one witness said lasted about 40 seconds, left a trail of debris in its wake.
Randy Swann said two vehicles parked in his front yard were damaged and he took shelter in an interior bathroom with his wife and 19-year-old daughter.
“It came on fast,” he said.
Four doors down, Wilburn Kirkland was hanging Sheetrock when he heard the storm coming. He, too, sheltered in an interior bathroom.
The homeowner, Michael Robichaux, had just left the house and was on his way back when his wife called and asked him to hurry.
Robichaux had damage to his fence and two trees were knocked down in the back yard.
The National Weather Service says the tornado touched down Wednesday in Petal, near Hattiesburg. Local news outlets showed photos of damaged fences and shingles pulled off a home. No injuries were immediately reported.
The weather service was trying to determine whether damage further south was caused by tornadoes or other strong winds. Meteorologist Alek Krautmann says damage also was reported in Pearl River County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.