“Every cloud has a silver lining,” an old saw, was made reality last Saturday when the first of two tornadoes touched down in DeSoto County near Hernando Point at Arkabutla Lake. It then made its way northeast, wreaking havoc in rural areas south of the city of Hernando. Then a second EF-2 tornado, set down east of town and carved a path of destruction on towards Lewisburg, Olive Branch and into Marshall County.
But therein lies the irony of several accounts of survival that are almost unbelievable; each one in itself a 'silver lining' moment.
Jeremy Garner, age 42, his wife Kathryn, age 39, and their two sons – Hunter, age 13, and Briar, age 5 – of the community of Love, were asleep in their trailer home on Airport Road East, near where the tornado first touched down.
“I was awakened by the roar of the storm and felt our house shaking,” said Garner. “I jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to the boys' room, just as the tornado started to pry the roof away. The impact of the cyclone threw me through a window, my body breaking the glass and bruising my chest and my arm. Then the entire house was lifted into the air and it tumbled over and over into the trees. It was pitch black and I could see nothing except, when lightning flashed I caught glimpses of where I was and what I was looking at...all upside down since the house had landed on its roof.”
Garner made his way to his youngest son, Briar, who wrapped his arms around his dad as Garner reached for and pried his oldest son, Hunter, from under a gun cabinet which had shielded him from flying debris.
Garner took the boys outside, then crawled back into the house to find his wife Kathryn, who was wedged under fallen furniture. Her head had been cut, so Garner grabbed a throw pillow and wiped the blood from her forehead. Then he made one last entry into the mangled home to find his dog. The animal was still laying in his dog bed, looking directly at Garner and upon recognizing him, the dog broke free, ran outside and jumped into the truck.
“It was all so unreal,” Garner said, “and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.” His uncle's house is a few yards south, and others in the family have homes within eye shot. Everyone came to Garner's aid and over the next couple of hours, additional help arrived.
“There were neighbors and friends coming up the road to offer help,” Garner related, “but two of my closest friends deserve much praise, Brad Jones and Cameron Massey, to whom I owe so much. They began helping to find our things which were scattered everywhere, and even to help recover my wife's jewelry and other keepsakes.”
The Garners lost everything, but friends and extended family have taken them in and are feeding and housing them.
“It's going to take us time to recover and rebuild our lives,” Garner said. “It will be a long time until we're back to where we were.”
And Jeremy Garner isn't alone. Many rural families don't have homeowners insurance, and are struggling to recover their losses. There are, however, several support groups who have come into the area to help those in need.
Samaritan's Purse, a faith-based organization from North Carolina has sent a team of some 63 volunteers and staff from Dallas, and they are here attending to the needs of those whose lives were upended by the tornadoes.
Another organization is Eight Days of Hope, out of Newcomerstown, Ohio. They are here with the man power to help with property restoration. But there are others, including tree-clearing companies and power linemen who have come from neighboring states. Everyone is doing their part to help put people's lives back in order.
And despite news reports of “...no loss of life” which have been repeated since the tornadoes struck, there was life lost.
At the Camp Creek Stables on Craft Road in Lewisburg where several horses and donkeys were boarded, some of the animals were hurt and one was lost – a prized show horse. They had been placed in the barn for the night and, unable to reach the stables in time to let them out into the pastures, they had no way to escape the tornado which struck and destroyed the barn, trapping the animals inside. Many were hurt with the one horse killed.
Devastation comes quickly during a tornado, and then within minutes it's over. But the destruction in its wake will take time and a great deal of effort to recover. One lesson learned is how much communities are willing to extend helping hands with the outpouring of tools, supplies, food, clothing, necessities and even money which has been substantial.
Mike Lee is a contributing writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.