Longtime Smithville residents didn't think twice about rebuilding after the tornado

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Dick and Edna Cox lost their home in the deadly tornado that hit Smithville a year ago today. Dick also lost his brother, Jesse, in the storm.
And yet, the couple is thankful.
“The Lord blessed us,” said Edna, 72. “You look out after it was over and you wonder how anybody survived. I looked out and said, ‘My God. Smithville is gone.’”
And, indeed, much of Smithville was gone. The EF5 tornado on April 27 killed 16 people, injured 40 more and destroyed 150 homes and 14 businesses as it cut a path through the town of 887 residents.
Today, only about 500 remain.
The day after the twister hit, the couple, who survived the storm by hunkering down in a hallway in their home, called a contractor.
“We started rebuilding immediately,” Edna said. “We were the first ones to start back building and the first ones to move in.”
The home the couple lost was built in 1966 on Cox family land. It replaced a home Dick’s grandfather had built in the 1800s.
“A lot of people who lost their houses in the tornado moved away,” said Dick, 80. “It never even crossed our minds if we would or wouldn’t rebuild here. It was just would all the way.”
The Coxes’ new three-bedroom red brick home is a bit smaller than their old one, but similar in layout and design. In the new house, the kitchen and the front porch are both longer and rooms are arranged differently.
“I had been in the other house since 1966,” Dick said. “It’s hard to get adjusted to it – it’s hard to adjust to change. But I’m happy with it the way it is.”
The couple, who have been married 18 years, had a 100-year-old Magnolia tree in the front yard that was toppled in the storm by an old silo that was across the street. They decided not to replace the tree when they rebuilt.
“We had 17 big old trees and we lost them all,” Dick said. “We planted 15 new trees – one maple, two cherries, two crape myrtles and 10 oak trees. We didn’t plant the pecans back because we knew we wouldn’t live long enough to get anything off of them.”
Dick and Edna aren’t the only ones planting new trees. Edna, who is the executive director for the Monroe County chapter of Keep Mississippi Beautiful, said more than 1,500 trees have been donated to Smithville since the storm and 600 of them have already been planted around town.
Outbuildings destroyed
The Coxes have volunteers to thank for saving most of the furnishings in their home after the tornado.
“You just don’t realize how many people showed up to help clean up,” Edna said. “There was some guys here that Friday from the Coast helping us to move stuff. Without them, we couldn’t have saved anything.”
They had to have most of their furniture reupholstered and none of the curtains or linens in the house were salvageable.
“Everything just had mud worked into it,” Edna said. “Pillows, things like that, they were filled with mud and glass and insulation.”
The couple also had four buildings behind their home that were blown away.
“Mainly what we lost was what was in the storage buildings,” Edna said. “We had toys my kids had that I’d saved for the grandkids, Christmas decorations, tractors and lawnmowers. Some of the tools – we haven’t found them yet.”
“All four buildings were destroyed,” Dick said. “All that was left was the concrete. So we built them back on the same concrete.”
Just before the tornado hit, the couple had had their yard landscaped with new shrubs and flowers for an outdoor wedding.
“Some of our bushes and plants we were able to save,” Edna said. “People helped us dig them up and put them in pots until we could rebuild and then repot them.”
Today, a neat row of evergreen bushes lines the front porch, and a patch of daylilies and cannas flourishes on one side of the house.
“They were beat, but they came back,” Edna said. “I’ll just be glad when we get some grass all over.”
The Coxes’ home sits in the middle of two empty fields. New construction dots the landscape, which brings smiles to the couple’s faces.
“Some said they weren’t coming back because of the tornado,” Edna said. “And I said, ‘Well, why not? Anywhere you live there could be a tornado.’”
ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

Smithville Memorial Day
When: Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: The opening ceremony will be on Highway 25 across from the water department. The softball game is behind Mel’s Dinner and the tailgate party will be in that area.

Events: 5K run; awards, presentation and the reading of the names of those killed in the tornado; community tailgating party; softball game; bonfire.

More Info: Call (662) 651-4063