Recently, a lawnmower threw a rock into the glass front door of Sybil Prather’s home in east Lowndes County.
Until the glass is replaced, the broken door is a minor inconvenience. Considering what happened to her home a year ago, she’ll take it.
Prather — on April 28, 2014 — lay huddled in her back bathroom with her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren as the last gasps of a tornado that devastated parts of north Mississippi tore through her neighborhood and left her home at the corner of Lacy and Pleasant Hill roads ruined. No one was injured, but the storm lifted part of her roof above the carport and threw it into a tree in the backyard, Prather said. It sent another part of the roof crashing into the living room.
“It just happened so fast,” Prather told The Dispatch on Monday. “It’s like you don’t hear it until it’s already passed. I’m really thankful no one was hurt. You can replace your house and your stuff, somehow, but you can’t replace people.”
A year ago today, the series of tornadoes that struck Prather’s home also ripped through Winston County, killing 10 people and destroying millions of dollars in property, before coming into the Golden Triangle. While no Lowndes County residents were hurt or injured, the storm downed trees, damaged homes and left as many as 9,000 area residents without power.
Prather said she and other family members spent days cleaning up debris before professionals arrived tasked with restoring her home to pre-storm condition. In the meantime, she said she lived in an apartment for more than two months waiting until she could return home.
“I do think about it sometimes,” Prather said of the tornado. “I don’t dwell on it or anything. Really, I just think that if a storm can pick up a roof and make it fly away, it could have picked up one of us. I’m just thankful God wasn’t ready for us to fly away that night.”
Neighbors helping neighbors
Another Lacy Road resident, Jerry Nickoles, recalled spending the storm with about 20 of his neighbors in a basement located at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, just down the road from his house and two businesses — Nickoles Dirt Construction and Columbus Speedway.
Nickoles said that after the storm, downed trees littered the area, some landing on people’s homes. So he and his brother, Gary, spent the next several hours using equipment from their construction shop to help their neighbors remove debris.
They weren’t the only ones lending a hand, either. Nickoles said dozens in the neighborhood came out to do something, whether it was helping move debris or getting water to the workers.
“We couldn’t do everything, and honestly we didn’t do as much as needed to be done, but we did as much as we could,” Nickoles said. “The main thing people need to see in a situation like that is a helping hand. Once they saw that, it grew from there.”
Nickoles said it took about a month to get things sort of back to normal, but the storm still has a lingering affect. Church members at Pleasant Hill, he said, are still meeting in the fellowship hall since part of the church’s roof collapsed last fall, an event he said directly related to the storm.
All told, he said his neighborhood looks different, with a little more open space and the occasional visible scar from the storm. But even through an unfortunate event like last year’s tornado, he said his neighborhood became stronger.
“We had a good neighborhood anyway,” he said. “But I think it’s closer-knit. We value who’s living next to us more than ever.”
‘It has certainly changed us all’
That’s a feeling Louisville Mayor Will Hill knows all too well.
The storm there destroyed more than 400 structures, damaged more than 1 million square feet of industrial property and destroyed Winston Medical Center. While the city has made significant progress toward replacing the lost property, he said the 10 lost lives will forever make the tornado a tragic landmark in city and county history.
“It has certainly changed us,” Hill said. “For at least a few generations, the history of this community will be defined, in part, as pre-tornado/post-tornado.”
Hill said the hospital has moved to a transitional facility on county industrial property while construction of the new Winston Medical Center is expected to be complete in 2017. Plus, Winston Plywood’s new 300,000 square foot facility to replace the plant the storm destroyed, begins construction today.
Organizations like the non-profit Winston Strong have also stepped up, Hill said, assisting 141 households thus far either rebuild or relocate.
“We’ve got a lot accomplished in a year,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. We’re asking people for patience and a positive attitude.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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