By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Poignant stories continued to surface on Thursday as residents along White Chapel, Sones Chapel, Joe Smith, and Henleyfield-McNeill roads continued recovery operations from a devastating Christmas Day tornado that ripped across central Pearl River County.
Some picked through the remains of what was once their home.
Like Lynn Smith on Joe Smith Road. She lost everything. But she, her granddaughter, and grandchild, and granddaughter’s friends survived by taking refuge in a bathroom.
“I don’t know what I am going to do. I will just trust in the Lord and take one day at time,” she said while taking a break from trying to salvage at least something from her home of 40 years. Her home was totally destroyed. She’s the great-granddaughter of Joe Smith, after whom the road is named.
About a mile away, over on Henleyfield-McNeill Road, the Rev. Tim Parker family was cleaning up, getting a tree off the carport. The Rev. Parker is pastor of McNeill’s First Baptist Church.
When the storm hit at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day, he and his children and grandchildren had gathered in the living room of the pastorium and were reading about the birth of Christ in Luke Chapter 2. There were 18 people in the house, but the tornado sheered away and sort of sideswiped the home as it skipped on across fields to the Joe Smith Road, where Smith and her family had just finished the Christmas meal, too.
Where the storm ripped across Sones Chapel Road, after hitting homes on the Joe Smith Road, it destroyed nine homes along the road before leaving Sones Chapel and hitting the big ante-bellum style home of Ted and Cindy Williams on a hill just north of McNeill on Hwy. 11; the home is a land mark here.
And it traveled up the west side of Hwy. 11 for several miles, ripping up trees and powerlines, before heading further northeast near Millard, veering out through the woods.
Gov. Phil Bryant toured the heavily damaged areas between Carriere and McNeill on Wednesday afternoon. His visit was a surprise and quickly arranged, local officials said.
He declared an emergency in Pearl River County and in other area counties hit by the storms.
At 86 Joe Smith Road, Lynn Smith on Thursday sorted through the remains of her home and contemplated what she was going to do.
She said the little warning they had came on her granddaughter’s cell phone. She, her granddaughter, her granddaughter’s friends and a grandchild had just completed the Christmas meal. “We had finished the meal, opened our presents and I went to lie down in the bedroom and take a nap,” she said. “About that time, we received a warning on the cell phone.”
“I jumped up and met my granddaughter at the door of my bedroom, and she grabbed me and led me to the middle bathroom, and we got into the bathtub. I keep hearing a strange noise, like I had never heard before.
“She got on top of me and her friends on top of her and the little grandchild hung onto the commode.
“And it was horrible. I have never heard anything like it. I have been through Katrina and hurricanes, and I have never been through something so terrible. I never want to go through anything like that again. The ceiling started falling in on us and we just knew we were gone.
“Codie’s friend opened the door and looked out, and he said, ‘My God, it’s gone. Everything is gone’.
“We got out and went down to mother’s home, and it was flattened, too. But we got out and survived,” she said. Her 86-year-old mother was injured but survived, too.
“We really did not have any warning; when we got the cell phone call, it was here,” she added. “It sounds louder than a train. And the pressure, and it makes a sound that you never want to hear again. . .The middle bathroom was the only thing that remained standing; we are very fortunate and blessed to be alive.”
“I don’t know what we are going to do. We will just take one step at a time and trust the Lord. He brought us through it, so we will just continue to trust in Him,” she said.
Mrs. Parker said that when they began reading about Christ’s birth, the siren went off, and they only had time to all gather in the hallway. The Rev. Parker went out and checked and came back in when the tree fell on the carport. Five cares parked in the driveway were destroyed.
“We were blessed,” said Mrs. Parker. “The Lord was with us. I never want to go through anything like that again.”
She said another neighbor told her he was missing some cows, and another neighbor, Glen Harbeson, lost 100 prized roosters when the tornado hit. Only a few have so far returned.