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Ole Miss students help tornado-ravaged Illinois town

Photo Courtesy Ethan Alexander


There’s not much left in the tornado-stricken town of Harrisburg, Ill. Homes and buildings that once stood in the small town were wiped out by a vicious twister that hit last Wednesday, Feb. 29.

Among the debris stood three University of Mississippi students: Ethan Alexander, Jonathan Davis and Dillon Widdows. The three students made the 321-mile drive to Harrisburg this past weekend to deliver nearly three tons of water and offer their help.

Alexander, a Harrisburg native, found out soon after the tornado hit that four of his family members had their homes leveled by the 170-mph winds. He immediately reached out to his friends and fraternity brothers asking for assistance and/or donations.

In an effort to help, Alexander was joined by his Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers Davis and Widdows in Harrisburg. Rebuilding a community is nothing new for Davis and Widdows, who have experienced natural disasters of their own.

Davis, a resident of Yazoo City, had his hometown hit by a tornado three years ago and left the experience more humble than before.

“I saw how helpful it was when people from out of state help,” he said. “I felt like since I had the opportunity to help, I should take advantage of it.”

Widdows was a resident of Ocean Springs when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast. He said he later learned that the people of Harrisburg sent aid to the victims of Katrina, which inspired him to help more.

After dropping off a truckload of water late Friday afternoon, the three students went to work on Alexander’s aunt’s house on Saturday.

Her roof had completely flown off into her backyard and smashed into the roots of a tree. They spent most of the day clearing the debris from the roof and salvaging any furniture she had left.

They weren’t the only ones helping. Alexander said there were about 3,000 people driving around looking for victims to help.

Widdows said the people of Harrisburg were amazing and they all helped each other rebuild like a big family.

“They were joking and laughing, trying to make the mood lighter by being extremely pleasant,” he said. “There was a synergy that’s very unique to disasters.”

The visit to Harrisburg was not all smiles, though. Westboro Baptist Church protested the deaths of those involved in the tornado. A post on the church’s website reads, “Hallelujah! God sent an F-4 Tornado Ripping Through Harrisburg Illinois!”

Alexander said this only compelled the community to come together more. Thousands of people gathered together at the funeral homes to block the view of the protesters during the funerals.

“My community has always been a very strong one,” he said. “I’ve never seen them come together more than that.”

To help donate or volunteer, contact Ethan Alexander at ethan92@gmail.com for more information.