GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – Tuesday marks one year since Hurricane Ida dumped 14 inches of rain on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The torrential rain caused a washout on High 26 in George County, a 20 foot deep crater in which 10 cars were caught. Three people were killed. We remember the chaos on Aug. 30, 2021.
“The first thing I think that hit everybody was, it’s not real. It looked more like something you would see on a movie set,” said former emergency management director John Glass. “In 30 years of EMS, I’ve worked some pretty bad accidents on the interstate and things, but nothing to that magnitude.”
Images from the debris made national headlines. Emergency management officials used a drone to give the governor a live feed of the situation in the days that followed.
Dozens of first responders were on the scene that night to rescue the trapped victims. In all, three died from their injuries.
Kent Brown, 49, was a 1991 Greene County graduate and pipefitter for many years. He was a son, brother, friend, and father of two boys.
Jerry Lee was passionate about helping students through a community connections group. He was a proud hunter and welder at Chevron. Jerry’s survived by his wife, four children and four grandchildren. He was 49.
Amanda Williams was 39-years-old. Her husband and three children said she had a great sense of humor and loved lizards and frogs. She was a dedicated employee as an account manager at Piggly Wiggly in Wiggins.
Nine others were injured in the crash, including Layla Jamison. She was 17-years-old at the time and on her way home from work when the storm hit. She broke the majority of bones in her body and spent six months in the hospital.
“Most people who have injuries like this, they usually just wanna give up. And that’s where I was at a lot and you know, the therapist there, my mom, [they] just really pushed me to keep going,” she said.
Jamsison was given a key to the city of Lucedale as the community welcomed her home in January for the first time since the washout. She now uses a wheelchair but went on to take a few steps across the stage to receive her high school diploma, with honors, in May.
“I will be forever grateful for that. And I’m just really blessed in the sense that I was able to do that because I feel like to me, that shows that I still have a purpose and God’s not done working on me and I can do whatever I put my mind to,” Jamison said.
For months, the county had to reroute school busses, garbage trucks and emergency vehicles while the road was closed. In the year since the destruction, the road underwent a $1.8 million rebuild by the state department of transportation and reopened to drivers in November.
“The 26 project was considered an emergency project and it was not especially large in terms of scope. We’ve certainly done a lot of projects around the state that were much larger, but, because it was an emergency project that meant that the process for it was expedited,” said MDOT public information officer Anna Ehrgott.
Crews have done minor repairs in the months since the rebuild. MDOT says all 30,000 miles of road and 6,000 bridges under their purview in the state are inspected on a monthly basis, but Highway 26 showed no sign of being an immediate threat before it collapsed.
That portion of the road now includes new infrastructure to help with drainage and soil erosion.
County first responders also used lessons from the disaster to improve their operations.
“We were really well trained on how to take care of those patients and make those decisions. What we needed to do a better job on as a county was the way that we communicate- our infrastructure- as far as our radio platform, being able to communicate with different agencies,” Glass said.
The Lucedale and George County dispatch centers will soon be consolidated under one command in the county courthouse as a part of the upgrades.
As for Layla Jamison, she enrolled at the University of Mississippi earlier this month to study psychology. She’s excited for the new chapter while she keeps working towards recovery and learning to walk again.
“ I’m grateful because it could have been so much worse. It could have been, I couldn’t have made it through. I was given a second opportunity at life and I want to use thah to help others with whatever it may be,” she said.
On the anniversary of the washout, it’s hard to tell just what happened there one year ago, but three crosses remain next to the church on the side of the highway as a reminder of the loss still felt in George County and beyond.
“I just lost my ability to walk. Some of them lost their livelihoods and their best friends and their moms and sisters and daughters and wives and husbands. And so, to me, that is so much more important…I want for people to also pray for them as much as they do for me because they deserve it. They deserve the whole world. I feel like they need to be remembered during this time because this is gonna be extremely difficult for all of them,” Jamison said.
Full Coverage of One-Year Anniversary: