Kay and Sen. Giles Ward at the Neshoba County Fair.
Kay and Sen. Giles Ward at the Neshoba County Fair.
State Sen. Giles Ward missed part of the Neshoba County Fair because of work on his new house in Louisville in wake of a EF-4 tornado which devastated his residence and many others in Winston County in April.

He and wife Kay were at home with grandchildren for "45 seconds of terror" as the tornado struck. All escaped injury.

Ward said they had an installation crew come to their newly purchased home on north Columbus Avenue the Saturday morning of the Fair.

Ward, 66, announced on Thursday of the Fair that he would not seek re-election to a third term in the state Senate.

He told Fairgoers that his decision came after a lot of thought and prayer. He wants to spend more time with his family.

"There are a lot of reasons why my family and I made this decision," he said. "My wife and I are blessed with a beautiful and healthy family."

Ward told Fairgoers that he had made a "commitment to never speak publicly about the storm without giving God the glory for His amazing grace and I do that this morning."

Ward's Jordan Circle home in Louisville, along with much of the surrounding area, was destroyed in the April 28 tornado which tore a path of destruction throughout the county. His former lot now consists of only foundation dirt.

Ward and members of his family were at the house the day after the tornado, sifting through the debris looking for anything salvageable.

Three months after their loss, the Wards are now residing in their new home.

"Each day we're getting closer to it resembling a home more than a warehouse," the senator said, noting that before they purchased their new house they were staying at their Nanih Waiya farm.

Many other Winston countians are also recovering from the tornado's devastation.

Winston County officials, such as Emergency Management Director William King, have been happy with the rebuilding effort.

"I have been impressed with the seamless progression of rebuilding," he said. "MEMA [the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency] has been a good asset from the beginning and we're about finished with debris cleanup."

Besides MEMA, King also thanked state legislators for getting the financing systems in place which have helped with the cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

King noted that three months after the devastation, no one in Winston County is without a roof over their heads.

"We had shelters open for seven days [immediately after the storm] and for the last four days we only had one family of 12 staying," he said. "Our goal was to get people in beds and by my last count we had found homes for everyone but 22 families that had to be put in FEMA trailers."

Brenda Thomas, a minister with Outreach Ministry in Louisville and one of those who lost their homes, is thankful for her temporary home, a FEMA trailer.

Thomas and her family survived the storm huddled together in a small closet.

While looking over the foundation, the only remaining part of her house, Thomas thanked God for the help she and her family have received.

Thomas received the trailer on the last week of June, barely two months after losing her home.

Before that she was staying with her daughter and traveling back and forth to work.

"You've just got to have faith," she said.

Philadelphia Mayor James Young agreed with Thomas.

Young is the pastor at Calvary Apostolic where the tornado destroyed the three buildings that made up the house of worship.

Since the loss, the congregation has started the rebuilding process with the foundation dirt already in place.

"We're a few weeks away from ordering the building and getting the construction started," Young said, noting they expected to be complete and open by February or March 2015.

The mayor noted that his congregation was especially struck by the impact of the loss but kept a positive attitude.

"We still love the Lord and these things happen," he said. "We've moved on and plan to keep on serving the Lord."



Some chose to

rebuild, others left

The one thing everyone agrees on is that it will be a long time before Louisville and Winston County is back to where it was before the storm.

"Governmental-wise we're back to 100 percent," King said. "However we can't get back to normal. We're adopting a new normal."

Sen. Ward agreed, saying recovery efforts in Winston County have been nothing short of miraculous.

"It will be a long time before it [Louisville and Winston County] resembles what it was before the tornado," Ward said.

Director King said that not everyone who lost a home to the tornado decided to rebuild as many instead left the area entirely.

Frankie Shotts was one of the lucky ones. His business and home were undamaged by the storm. However his mother's home was not so lucky.

Shotts' mother was inside her Winston County home when the tornado struck. Although she survived unharmed, the tornado caused severe damage to her home and leveled the homes of several of her neighbors.

"The only reason her's was left standing was because several trees fell on the top and held it down," he said. "Hopefully within the next month-and-a-half we'll have it fixed."

Shotts added that his business survived only because the tornado turned as he was watching it from inside his business.

"It's [the tornado] affected a lot of folks," he said. "A lot of people have moved out of town and most of the owners of the houses around here are not rebuilding."

Also helping with the rebuilding effort is Mike Berkes of All-Star Restoration.

Currently the Texas-based company is working on restoring four homes with even more to come.

Berkes added that they are doing everything from a complete restore from the slab up to just repairing walls and roofs.

"We got here within about a week of the tornado," he said. "We saw that all the good contractors were already booked before the storm. That left a big gap and a lot of people were hurting."

Berkes said that since the storm the community and local governments have worked together to make the restoration process as smooth as possible.

He added that All-Star Restoration plans to stay in the area for at least several years until the job is complete.

We're getting more business all the time, Berkes said. The people who lost their homes completely have to wade through their mortgage company issues and their insurance company issues, he said.

"Then they have to make personal decisions like whether to rebuild there, somewhere else or even leave the area altogether."

Berkes noted that one of the reasons the company came to Louisville was to help people with that decision.

"We've saved numerous people from bulldozing their houses," he said. "Hopefully that's helped a lot of people. That's given them hope and another option. We're happy to do that."

Even though some people have abandoned Winston County, hopes are still high with those who stayed.

"There's been a lot of hope out there," King said happily. "By far the people of Winston County are the most resilient community I've seen and it's been my pleasure to work with them."





Chief Clark, firefighters aid in recovery

Philadelphia Fire Chief Pierce Clark was among first responders who spent an extensive amount of time amongst the destruction.

Clark, the leader of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency's Task Force 2, along with up to 20 other firefighters and volunteers from the county assisted with neighborhood-to-neighborhood searches amongst the destroyed homes in Louisville and rural Winston County.

The search for the missing began Monday, April 28 after the tornado struck and lasted until the following Thursday at 2:53 p.m. when the body of the last victim, Tyler Tucker, 8, was found 200 yards north of where the body of his mother, Terri Tucker, 31, was recovered on Tuesday, April 29 in a wooded area hundreds of yards from their Louisville home destroyed by the tornado.

Two firefighters from Philadelphia, Senior Capt. Mitch Lyon and firefighter Simeon Deweese, were with the crew that found the bodies of Terri Tucker and Sean Fowler, 44.

However, it was a Meridian police officer, also a member of MEMA Task Force 2, who found Tyler on Thursday.

After the body was found all members of the task force were recalled to a central location then demobilized.

Three months after the storm, Clark said he was proud of the job his men performed.

"They did an excellent job and I couldn't have asked for a better performance," he said.