HATTIESBURG, MS (WLOX) - For hundreds of families in the Pine Belt, the recovery process is just beginning. Four people were killed and more than 1,200 homes destroyed over the weekend, but those families aren't going through it alone.
They're getting help from volunteers as well as the Mississippi National Guard. More than a dozen members of the 890th Engineer Battalion based in Gulfport spent the day helping police in Hattiesburg and Petal on Monday. They're directing traffic, manning checkpoints, and keeping looters away from heavily damaged businesses. National Guard troops are also working with residents to make sure the hardest hit neighborhoods are secure.
"We've taking stuff like stoves, refrigerators, tables, whatever we can salvage," said Saroya Harris, a Hattiesburg resident who's childhood home was destroyed in the weekend's tornado.
By day, people like Harris canvas what's left of the lots they once called home, packing up whatever they can.
"There wasn't much that we could take, but we just purchased a new hot water heater," Harris said.
With the help of volunteers, they carried that water heater and a few other items to a truck, where they can take it somewhere safe.
"It's been so many people in and out the community where you can't watch everything," Harris said.
Racing the sun, families are boarding up windows and guarding doors as a means of protection against those trying to capitalize off the tragedy of others.
"When we leave tonight, we don't know what's going to happen until we come the next day," said Keith Montgomery, the Assistant Chief of State Fire Marshal's Office.
As night falls, first responders and the National Guard take to the streets.
"We have all the intersections manned. We're doing patrolling both on vehicle and on foot," Montgomery said. "There are some people who like to take advantage of those people who lost everything."
Those are the ones they're on the lookout for.
"If you come down here, we're either going to turn you away or we're going to arrest you," Montgomery said.
Families are relying on those watchful eyes to keep them from further devastation.