And for many of those who waded through debris to reach their shattered homes in the Monterey Road community of Rankin County, it was a time to reflect on their escaped death at the hands of a powerful tornado.
Survivor Josh Dewitt said he clutched his young nephew, Shawn, and held onto a railroad tie beneath his grandmother's house next door to his mobile home.
As the dark funnel barreled through the Monterey community, Dewitt shepherded his wife, two children and other family members to safety before being blown down repeatedly and diving under the porch with his nephew.
"I was just running back and forth because I couldn't tell which way the damn thing was going," Dewitt said. "I realized I've got to get under something - I'm going to be killed.
Dirt, dust blowing "Me and Shawn had his blanket, and I just held them. (The winds) blew my eyelids up. The dirt was in my eyes, so I closed my eyes, held my head down and prayed," he said.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said one of the injured, a Monterey community woman whose mobile home was shredded by a powerful tornado on Wednesday, was hospitalized in critical condition. Five other injuries from the same neighborhood were not as serious.
"It would give me a nervous breakdown to start thinking" about the tornado, said resident Floyd Cook, who survived the storm in Monterey by holding onto the kitchen door of his mobile home.
MEMA said as of about midday Thursday, teams had counted more than 250 homes and mobile homes were destroyed or damaged. The bands of violent storms also left damage in neighboring Louisiana and Alabama before moving east.
"When you look at what happened to some of these structures, it's amazing that there weren't people killed," Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday after assessing the damage in Monterey.
Barbour said the application process for federal relief had begun, but said it "is both complex and has a rigid structure. We'll just have to work within it."
Barbour has issued an emergency declaration covering areas raked by damaging storms and flash flooding.
MEMA Director Robert Latham toured hardest-hit areas on Thursday, beginning with the Smith County town of Mize, where 650 children were threatened by a tornado that ripped away the second floor of their school. No injuries were reported.
Disaster planning "All of the disaster planning that schools do throughout our state do obviously pay off," Latham said.
In the Monterey community, where the most severe of Wednesday's damage occurred, crews were out early Thursday, clearing away downed power lines and using boards as makeshift poles to restore electricity to homes that survived the F-3 tornado that packed winds of between 158 mph and 206 mph.
Aluminum siding, pink insulation and scrap metal from mobile homes were stacked in 6-foot piles as crews worked their way along streets where few homes were left livable.
Cook used a chainsaw to clear a path through fallen pine trees to the remnants of his mobile home. He hoped to recover his van and some furniture from the wreckage and slowly rebuild his life.
"We're going to put something back here, but every time we hear a siren, we're going to wonder if we're going to get wiped out again," Cook said. "I don't think anybody could take a second time. I sure hope I don't have to."
According to the National Weather Service, the Monterey tornado was of the same Fujita magnitude as an April 2003 tornado which left numerous injuries and damage. Another storm 12 years ago which killed 15 people followed a similar path.
Some brave Monterey residents who couldn't escape the tornado's path instead improvised ways to survive.
Saw funnel cloud Cook was making breakfast when he saw the funnel approaching and had no time to flee. He grabbed his kitchen door and "hoped it didn't take me," he said.
"It sounded like hurricane wind coming through," Cook said. "I don't want to hear it anymore. I sure don't want to be in this position again."
Besides the six Rankin County injuries, two people suffered storm injuries in Pike County and one Lincoln County injury was reported, MEMA said.