Restaurant Owner’s Quick Thinking Saves Employees From Deadly Mississippi Tornado

The staff at Chuck's Dairy Bar survived the tornado by taking shelter in the restaurant's walk-in cooler.

Tracy Harden, the owner of Chuck's Dairy Bar, Tornado


The employees of a beloved Mississippi diner owe their lives to their employer after her quick thinking saved them from the deadly tornado that devastated Rolling Fork on Friday evening. 

Tracy Harden, the owner of Chuck's Dairy Bar, reportedly rushed eight members of her staff into a walk-in cooler seconds before an EF4 tornado leveled the building. When the storm passed, that cooler and one bathroom were the only parts of the restaurant left standing.

"We are OK. I feel like I've said that a million times, but we are hurting, we are grieving, but we are alive so we are OK," Harden told Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts on Monday.

Harden said they had what felt like barely a moment’s notice before the tornado bore down on them with winds up to 170 miles per hour. 

"I got two text messages back-to-back from my sister and my daughter in Vicksburg and they both said ... 'There's a tornado down, get to a safe place.' At the same time I had my teenage cashier came running towards the back of the building saying, 'My mother is on the phone and she said there is a tornado down here,’” she recalled. “At that point, most of us were towards the back of the building and the lights flickered. And I just hollered 'cooler!' And my husband opened the cooler door and started shoving us in."

One of the employees, Barbara Pinkin, recounted those seconds of chaos. She told Roberts she remembers hearing Harden say, "Calm down, everybody get to the cooler."

"By the time we got to the cooler, I couldn't hear anything but the ceiling falling," Pinkins said.

When the storm abated, a customer, who suffered a broken arm in the storm, helped clear debris away from the cooler's door so the nine sheltered inside could get out.

"We stepped out to the back of the building … we stepped out through what would have been the back door, and our vehicles were totaled," Harden told Fox Weather. "But then when we looked up, we just saw what used to be two motel buildings and 35 or more trailer houses are all gone, and they were all flattened.” 

Rolling Fork Chuck's Dairy Bar


Harden and her husband Tim have owned Chuck's Dairy Barn for 16 years, but it’s been the main meeting place for the Sharkey County town’s roughly 2,000 residents for decades. 

"I care so much for my town, and our business is the place to go, not just to eat, but to be loved on and be comforted during anything," she told USA Today.

The tornado is blamed for at least 21 total deaths in Mississippi, with 13 confirmed in Sharkey County.

Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN that his “city is gone.”

“We’re going to come back strong,” he added.

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