Apart from the damage inflicted to numerous buildings on the University of Southern Mississippi campus, officials say dozens of trees that shaped the landscape of the campus, were destroyed in the powerful Hattiesburg tornado.
Southern Miss Now reported Wednesday that approximately 75 trees that created a picturesque “front porch” of the campus were lost in the EF-4 tornado that cut a 21-mile-long destructive path through Lamar, Forrest and Perry counties on Feb. 10.
Among the casualties were three of the four majestic legacy oak trees that once adorned the Southern Miss vista.
“My initial thoughts were shock and amazement at seeing one of our largest, oldest live oaks blown up and all the other trees lying shredded in the road,” said Loren Erickson, superintendent of campus landscape at Southern Miss.
"So much of USM, and the community as a whole, kind of identifies with the front of campus. I knew there would be a huge sense of loss,” Erickson added.
Kenneth Rhinehart, adjunct professor of environmental science and a member of the University’s Tree Management Task Force, estimates that one of the downed live oak trees that once shaded the popular tailgating area known as The District, was nearly 90 years.
Rhinehart noted that live oaks seem to withstand hurricane-force winds much better than those produced by a tornado.
“The long branches of the live oaks don’t handle the twisting motion of a tornado very well,” said Rhinehart.
Erickson said the process of restoration/replanting will soon begin with an action plan that will involve ground and irrigation repair and grading.