MCNEILL, Miss. -- Some families in McNeill, Mississippi had just finished eating Christmas dinner Tuesday afternoon, when a tornado tore through the small community -- just a few miles north of Picayune.
Wednesday morning, one of the only recognizable sections of Codie Linden’s home was the fireplace, which stood adorned with several Christmas stockings, amid a completely leveled area that used to be the living room.
After spotting the twister barreling toward them, Linden and a few family members dove into an interior bathroom. Two relatives held onto one another in the bathtub, while another – Kirk Johnson -- anchored himself to the toilet.
“It was very fast and very scary,” Johnson said.
"Within seconds, the house, it was shaking and everything was just gone,” Linden said. “I served 13 months in Iraq and I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve never been scared like I was yesterday.”
Across McNeill, it’s a similar outcome for more than a dozen homes in the tornado’s path.
Wednesday, Pearl River County officials said the latest assessment revealed 17 homes destroyed, with damage to 17 others.
Melvin Glidewell, who recently retired after a 38-year run as the local fire chief, spotted the monster funnel cloud as it raced past his home.
"I jumped up right then, left my family there opening Christmas presents, went down and started rescuing people out," he said. "This woman that lived here in this house, 86 years old, when we got a call to come over here, we found her sitting in the easy chair. She was all bruised up, had some bone damage to her face. We don't know exactly how much, but she's in the Hattiesburg hospital right now."
But Glidewell points out -- there were no major injuries.
It's a silver lining in an otherwise heartbreaking situation for some, who now face a very difficult road ahead.
For Codie Linden and family, it was a Christmas they’ll never forget, but one that leaves an uncertain future.
"It's just me and my grandmother and she's a widow, and you know, she, we honestly have no idea what we're gonna do," she said.