Stats

Path length: 6.1 miles

Width:  100 yards

Fatalities:  7

Injuries:  0

Rating:  F2

County:  Grenada

Tornado Path

SPC coordinates:   Start: 33.72 / -89.6 End: 33.77 / -89.52

Corrected Coordinates based on damage reports and analysis of aerial imagery:

Start: 33.7518/-89.6034 End: 33.7700/-89.5200 

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Summary

Only three weeks before a major outbreak would hit the Mississippi Delta, a small but devastating tornado event would occur. In the blink of an eye, a dedicated city of Grenada police officer lost his entire family.

This tornado began approximately two miles to the southeast of Gore Springs, MS. Per the Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS) for February 1971, the twister traveled one mile before lifting and then formed again near Highway 8. It then continued for three miles before dissipating.

It was in the first part of the funnel’s path that disaster struck a loving family who lived in a trailer in this rural area of Grenada County, MS. On January 22, 2023, we interviewed Officer Christopher Columbus Hankins, now age 77. He confirmed the details of what happened on this day and gave us insight into the outpouring of love shown after the event. Officer Hankins said it took several years for him to talk about the tragedy, and we were honored that he shared with us.

In our interview, Officer Hankins said he got off work that Thursday afternoon and ran a few errands before heading home. This included paying some bills and stopping off at the grocery store. He and his wife, Mary Helen, had just had their third child, a baby boy named Christopher Columbus Hankins Jr.

Mary Helen was at her family’s trailer with the 5-day-old infant, their 3-year-old son, Gary, their 2-year-old daughter, Lasan Michelle, and her mother, Ellen. Also at the residence was Lura Yates, the sister of Officer Hankins, and her 4-year-old daughter Brenda.

Per the CDNS, “the funnel touched first in a wooded area on the southwest side of a hill, then traveled over the hill and down its side to a trailer home, then across an open field into the edge of the timber where it lifted.” The trailer was utterly destroyed, and in an instant, all seven members of the Hankins family inside were killed.

Various newspaper accounts and that from the CDNS stated that parts of the mobile home were scattered more than a half-mile away to the east-northeast. Several bodies were carried with the debris in this direction. Baby Christopher was recovered with other pieces of the wreckage to the southwest of the trailer site. The CDNS reported an “oddity in the damage path.” They found on the side of the hill “an area of some 10 feet across with fur scattered around, and the remnants of a denuded rabbit.” Officer Hankins told us he had no idea that a tornado had struck his home and killed his family until he drove up and saw the devastation with his own eyes.

It was reported in the CDNS that a woman who lived at a house only 50 feet from the Hankins family lost her front porch and part of the roof; a car in her yard was flipped. She was uninjured.

Little is known about the second leg of the tornado’s path. Per the CDNS, a man witnessed the twister as it passed to the west of him. “He described it as a solid sheet of water, limbs, leaves, parts of trailer, and other debris.” Several 14-18 inch pine trees were toppled behind his house. Others had their tops twisted off. The man stated that the only damage was to timber in the area.

Per the Grenada County Weekly on February 11, 1971, a special fund was set up by the Grenada Police Department to help cover expenses. Area radio and television stations also raised money to help offset costs.

We asked Officer Hankins about how the community rallied to help him after such a tremendous loss. He said, “Both white and black came together. I just didn’t have to worry about a thing; they just raised money. I was able to purchase two houses. I wound up living in one, renting the other one out. My family was so supportive, they wouldn’t allow me to be alone. Those are some facts that I know kept me strong.” Officer Hankins served with the police department for over 40 years and is currently on the Grenada County Board of Supervisors. He did marry again and is with his wife to this day. He has children and grandchildren and stated in our interview, “Let’s just say God is good. He gave me back double for everything I lost.”

2023 Grenada County Board of Supervisors. Officer Hankins is the second from the left. Image from the Grenada County Sheriff’s Website.

Toward the end of the interview, we asked this beloved man if he had anything else he would like to share. “One thing I would like to say is that I learned to be a firm believer, that you are not going until your time. Because I tried to come home and I just couldn’t come. I went by the doctor’s office. I went by my uncle’s and his son’s. I went by the store and bought all the children candy. I guess God said it wasn’t my time. I’m gonna delay him until I do what I gotta do.”

In Loving Memory

Mary Helen Hankins, 34
Gary Hankins, 3
Lasan Michelle, almost 2
Christopher Hankins Jr., 5 days
Alice Yates, 33
Brenda Lee Yates, 4
Ellen Yates, 63

Names and ages from the February 11, 1971 edtion of the Grenada County Weekly

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the February 1971 Storm Data Publication and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:

    Path Width:

    • The SPC/NCDC have a 10 yard width.
    • Storm Data and Grazulis list a 100 yard width.

      Sources:

      The Storm Prediction Center

      NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Grenada County

      Climatological Data National Summary-February 1971

      February 1971 Storm Data Publication

      Grazulis, T.P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes, 1680-1991. St. Johnsbury, Vt: The Tornado Project Of Environmental Films. Page 1120

      Officer Christopher Columbus Hankins and his son Christopher B. Hankins

      February 11, 1971 Edition of the Grenada County Weekly

      Elizabeth Jones Library

      Google Earth

      USGS

      Ancestry

      newspapers.com

      Grenada EMA

      Grenada County Sheriff

      Clarion-Ledger 05 Feb 1971, Page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

      Clarion-Ledger 08 Feb 1971, Page 2. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

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