Stronger Than the Storm: Havoline xpress lube and the Tupelo Tornado
April 28, 2014, 3 p.m. Tupelo, Mississippi: An eerie, cloudy sky and strong winds were settling around the community of Tupelo, Mississippi. The local news stations were reporting a high possibility of tornadoes, something that wasn’t uncommon to the area. However, Crystal Edwards, office manager at Havoline xpress lube, had never experienced anything like what was about to ensue.
“We left the office to take shelter in the lube bays at the North Gloster store. We pulled our cars inside the shop and stood watching the weather for a little bit. It was cloudy and windy. When the winds started to pick up, another girl who also works in the office and I decided to take cover. “We went down to the pit,” Edwards said. “We stood there for probably two or three minutes. We could hear the tornado sirens going off above us. The lights began to flicker for a few seconds before going off completely. I have never experienced a tornado, and I didn’t know what to expect. There was a pole beside me so I wrapped my arm around it and braced myself for whatever was about to happen.”
Meanwhile, Randy Groover, the owner and operator of four Havoline xpress lube shops in Tupelo, was trying to make his way to the North Gloster location.
“Around 3 p.m., the weather started to get bad. All of the employees pulled their cars into the bay area of the shop. Of course, they were keeping a close eye on the weather,” Groover said. “I was on my way to the shop when I saw the tornado cross the road. I had to pull over and dive into a building to ride it out.”
Back at the shop, Edwards and six other employees were in the pit waiting for whatever was going to happen next. With the pit nets closed, and their cars over the open pits they were protected from any falling debris.
“When the tornado hit, the pressure changed and my ears popped. You could hear the winds and the sound of destruction, but I never heard the sound of a freight train, like you hear people talk about.” Edwards said. “With my eyes closed, to avoid the falling glass, all I could do was pray, ‘God just get us out of here and let us live through this.’ It felt like a very long two or three minutes, but it probably wasn’t that long. Debris and glass were hitting us, but large objects never fell down in the pit. Having the pit nets closed and the vehicles over the bays protected us well.”
When the crew could tell the storm had passed, they began making their way upstairs to a very different reality.
“When we went upstairs, we saw lots of devastation to the building, vehicles and neighboring businesses. It wasn’t a sight that I was prepared for. I knew for the first few minutes I couldn’t go upstairs. I was just in shock,” Edwards said. “Instantly, we started calling our family and telling them we were OK and what had just happened. It’s an experience that I will never forget. When we left the office to take cover with the others, I assumed we would go and stand and watch the wind blow, that it would rain a little and we’d go back to work. I never thought for an instant that an actual tornado was going to come right across and tear the place and town apart.”
While still taking shelter a few blocks away, Groover got a call from his son, who is also an employee at the shop.