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Survivor, first responders recall terrifying moments after Hwy. 26 collapse

Human chain pulls victims of collapsed highway from 20-foot hole
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:08 AM CDT
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LUCEDALE, Miss. (WLOX) - Horror. Disbelief. Shock.

A man who survived the Highway 26 collapse in George County is speaking out about the terrifying moment he realized they were plummeting into a 50-foot wide ravine where the road was supposed to be.

The highway caved in Monday night after more than 14 inches of rain fell on George County, causing the roadway to collapse. Two people were killed and 10 others injured as vehicle after vehicle drove into the ravine, the darkness and rain making it impossible for them to have any warning of what lied ahead.

Two people are confirmed dead and 10 are injured after Hwy. 26 in George County washed out...
Two people are confirmed dead and 10 are injured after Hwy. 26 in George County washed out overnight Monday following heavy rains from Hurricane Ida.(Submitted)

Andre Lagarde and his wife left Louisiana ahead of Hurricane Ida, seeking safety from the life-threatening storm. They never imagined that the hurricane’s deadly reach would follow them more than 150 miles away to Mississippi. Now, they are thankful to be alive after plunging into the deep ravine.

“I didn’t really realize what was happening until we were in the air,” said Legarde. “It is still a little hard to make sense of it.”

As Legarde and others who survived were on the phone with 911 dispatchers, vehicles continued to drive into the massive hole. In all, seven vehicles drove off the collapsed roadway.

First responders and volunteers formed a human chain stretching down 20 feet into the pit to pull out those who were trapped in the wreckage.

“We had several human chains... and we would pass the backboards up with the victims on them,” said George County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Mathis.

Two people are confirmed dead and 10 are injured after Hwy. 26 in George County washed out...
Two people are confirmed dead and 10 are injured after Hwy. 26 in George County washed out overnight Monday following heavy rains from Hurricane Ida.(WLOX)

With the mud slippery and rain continuing to fall, the rescue operation was a difficult one.

“It was wet and very muddy. You were getting stuck every step you made. Not only were we helping the victims, we were helping each other get up and move,” said Mathis.

The lack of light also made the rescue operation even harder.

“I was hollering out, trying to figure out where someone may be, if someone was still conscious,” recalled Deputy Michael Mitchell. “I heard the scream and it sounded like a young girl, and it will stick with me. I’ll never forget it.”

That young girl was George County High senior Layla Jameson, who is now in critical condition along with two others who were injured. Jameson suffered multiple broken bones and internal injuries, according to her family members.

Update on Layla I was able to stay with her all night. She was able to open her eyes and squeeze her hand when I talk...

Posted by Kimberly Ward Jamison on Wednesday, September 1, 2021

On Tuesday night, more than 100 George County students and community members gathered to pray for those who were injured and for the two men who died in the collapse.

Jerry Lee of Lucedale and Kent Brown of Leakesville, both 49, died when the vehicles they were in went off the highway and into the ravine.

While the loss of two people is devastating, first responders and others in the community are stunned that the death toll wasn’t much higher considering how deep the collapse is.

“Now that I have come (during the day) and saw (the collapse) during the daylight, it has really opened my eyes to see there were a lot of people that were really blessed,” said Brennen Ferguson, a volunteer firefighter with Benndale Fire Department who was among those helping Monday night.

Lagarde and his wife count themselves among the fortunate and are thankful for all those who jumped into action to try and save lives.

“I am just blown away by how sweet the people were, how welcoming they were. Yes, this was horrible. It was scary as hell, but that heartwarming experience will stay with me, as well,” said Legarde. “I wish I had names and could reach out and catch up with these people because they are amazing.”

Many who rushed to help are not full-time first responders but are volunteers. Some are just every-day citizens, but their actions saved lives.

“I was able to come and help someone, a daughter, a mother, a husband,” said Ferguson. “We all play a role, and I was just glad I was able to help during such a chaotic situation.”

WATCH BELOW: Drone video captures collapsed Hwy. 26

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