By CATHY BARNES
Monday, April 28, while tuned into The Weather Channel, we watched in horror as the meteorologist showed the storm system that was barreling down on my hometown, Louisville, Miss. After several phone calls to check on my brother, he was saying that the storm would dissipate before it got to him.
I saw, unfolding before my eyes, a totally different scenario.
After initially thinking it would squeeze by him, I quickly realized that unfortunately it would not. Not one tornado, but now they think two tornadoes were responsible for the destruction.
My husband, Eddie, our two sons, Brian and Clif, and I made the decision to drive over and help. As we loaded up, I turned to Brian and said, “At 4:26 I will wish you, ‘Happy birthday!'” Tuesday was his birthday. The caravan of our business box truck and two pickup trucks began.
One cannot be prepared for tornado aftermath. You can look at it in pictures and on television, but you have to witness it in person to get “the rest of the story.” As we drove into Winston County, I was fine. As the damage started coming into view, I was fine. When we got closer, my stomach started sickening – butterflies – and soon was in severe turbulence mode. There was a different smell in the air.
My first thought as we entered the city was just a typical lazy day in “L’vlle.” People were going on with their lives. They had been spared. Brian and I tried to go south so we could see the damage where I grew up and played. The line of cars was extremely long, so we headed north for the job intended.
Making it through the roadblock, I realized there was no neighborhood to drive into. I was disoriented. There was no sign; the road looked like a trail with all the debris scattered around. We turned down the “street of sorts” that looked more like a sidewalk and made our way to my brother’s.
Choking up, I wondered if I could identify his home. Making a video for my sister who lives in Illinois, I kept saying I could not find the house. Few homes were standing, and none looked familiar. Something came into view. It was what was left of my brother’s home.
We said our hellos, giving hugs to everyone, and then started with the task for which we drove over. I am still amazed at how upbeat everyone was. My brother and sister-in-law were just happy to be alive. The house is a material thing and will be replaced. Their children were safe, alive.
Recounting the tornado, my brother said that he got most of the family under the stairwell. He was pressed against a wall. As the tornado came over, the wall was moving. Knowing my brother, panic was set on overload, as well it should have been. To him it lasted for an eternity.
Then the silence, not believing you made it because of what you just went through and knowing you should not have. The family was safe. He and Jonathon, his son, put into effect their Boy Scout training and started the neighborly thing, checking on neighbors. Horrified at what they were seeing and running from home to home, they started the neighbor count. They pulled two children and a mother out and then got to the father. He was alive but had two broken legs. Neighbors put him on what was a table and carried himabout a half-mile to the EMTs.
We salvaged what we could, hoping the garage wall would not cave in. I remembered what Holli Miller, a Louisville native, had told me in a conversation while driving over: “More people are hurt after a tornado from cleaning up.” We managed to get a lot out of the house into the trucks, and my brother said the rest could wait for the adjuster.
Finished for the day, we started for home. There was an urgency to see my home place before I would leave. Making our way to the roadblock, I explained who I was and wanted to check on the property I had. Given the nod, we made our way in. Looking to see what time it was, I pulled out my phone and set the alarm for 4:26. I could not forget that time. Each year I try to call both my sons on their birth dates, at the precise time they were born.
I looked straight ahead. There was a swath cut out where my memories were.
Sickening again, I told myself to keep it together. My grandmother’s home, where such wonderful memories had been made, was severely damaged. Lost in that flood of memories, I looked over at the home I grew up in: almost gone!
I asked Eddie to pull over, and I walked up and saw the “now” owner. Tears started flowing down both of our cheeks as we held on.
After goodbyes, I walked over to the little house my grandmother “sized down” to. All the walls were caved in. The “now” owner was alive and said, “That had been a well-built home,” surviving a couple of tornadoes. My chin dropped and I gave him an “Are you crazy?” look, but then quickly realized he was right. This was more than the little house could stand.
We clambered back into our vehicles, tired, dazed and dirty for the drive home. I was spent emotionally and physically. As we pulled into Greenwood, I was counting my blessings and thanking God that more people did not die.
There could have been hundreds.
My alarm sounds. Happy birthday, Brian. Thank you, Lord.
Cathy Barnes is a Greenwood homemaker.