GALEN HOLLEY: Remembering the day of the tornado

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

Todd comes by my desk some time around 4 p.m., while I’m working on a Holocaust remembrance story. “Get a notebook. Let’s go to Monroe County,” he says.
He wants to take his car. I insist we take my 4×4.
“Wren,” he says. I know where that is.
There’s a tree down across 41. I conduct the first interview through the driver’s side window of my truck. Jason Lawrence is walking toward the broad scar on the land with his woman, Charlotte, close behind him. Trees are snapped. Everything’s laid over like it’s been combed. Everything’s wet and raw. I can trace the path of the tornado across the horizon.
“We saw it coming, and I said, ‘I don’t want to die. Let’s go,’” Jason says, reaching back for Charlotte, reliving the moment.
The call comes.
“Smithville,” Todd says.
Traffic is backed up half mile outside town on Smithville Road. Todd is standing in the bed of my truck, one foot on the toolbox, taking pictures of those coming toward us down the road.
The first interview is Marsha Houck, a nurse practicioner. She’s walking in the rain down the shoulder of the road, past stopped traffic, her hair pasted to her forehead, her eyes straight ahead.
“There are so many injuries, some not treatable here,” she says, out of breath. “Broken arms. Everybody’s in shock.” She’s done all she can. We thank her.
Todd shakes his head, looks at me. “I’m walking,” he says, grabbing his gear and leaving me with the truck. That’s when I see the sign. “This community is claimed for Christ, protected by prayer.”
I park at the Church of Christ and walk into the wreckage.
Chief Scott Morgan is doing an extraordinary job, somehow making order out of chaos. Men are coming in straight from work, their gear under their arms, dressing as they go. They’re from Tilden, Mantachie, Tremont, Liberty Grove, Northeast Itawamba, Monroe County. They’re looking for assignments. These men aren’t frantic. They’re trained, listening, keyed in to what Morgan is telling them. Rain is falling. Hundreds of dazed pedestrians are walking down Hwy 25.
I make the first call to Lloyd Gray, then drift in the current of humanity.
“How many,” I ask Romma Harris, because she looks like she knows what she’s doing. That’s the best gauge of anything. She’s handled a corpse herself. She points toward the base of the water tower, where Fish and Wildlife men are standing guard over the dead.
The images blur.
There’s a group of very young, very pretty black girls in blue shirts from the Sonic restaurant walking past me. There’s Romma Harris again, her tan legs tapering down into boots, sifting through the hard, raw debris. Compassion seems to radiate from her. There’s a truck full of good old boys, pulled to a stop, all of them jumping out with chain-saws and rushing toward a truly horrible tangle of limbs and metal.
I meet up with Todd, Chis and Thomas back in the parking lot of the Church of Christ. Chris takes a moment to sit beside me on the tailgate of my truck, and we all just shake our heads.
“Danza’s here too, somewhere,” somebody says.
The clock is ticking. We rush back to the paper to write the story.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@journalinc.com.