Out of the storm: The Parker family, Smithville begin the long journey of rebuilding

Editor’s note: Daily Journal reporter Michaela Gibson Morris will follow the Parker family with periodic stories as Smithville recovers and rebuilds over the next few months.

SMITHVILLE – The Parker family is at the center of Smithville’s devastation. It’s also at the center of its recovery.
The house that Randy and Patti Parker and their children, Johnny, 17, and Chloe, 14, called home on Highway 25 was destroyed by the April 27 tornado.
In addition to dealing with the personal blow to her family, Patti Parker, as executive director of the United Way of Greater Monroe County, has been focused on the needs of hundreds of people in Smithville and Wren, too.
Almost as soon as she found her family shaken but safe, she was at work coordinating relief efforts and resources, connecting social service organizations, emergency management agencies and those in need.
“I had an hour,” Patti Parker said, recalling the time between when the tornado hit and when she went back to work.
Randy Parker has been the point man for the Parkers’ personal recovery. He took a couple of weeks off from his job at Tru Temper in Amory to manage the immediate aftermath of the storm for the family.
“My precious husband is my rock,” Patti Parker said.
Immediately after the tornado, friends showed up to help the family save what they could. They took home baskets of wet clothes to clean. They’ve fed the family, picked up birthday cake and bought groceries.
“Trying to think about what is needed is overwhelming,” Patti Parker said.
In the month since, she has divided her time between the United Way office in Amory and the United Way warehouse, borrowed from Townhouse furniture. She spends her time juggling the immediate needs of tornado recovery with the long-term needs of the entire county.
She’s snatched a few hours here and there for breaks, but hasn’t really had a full day off.
“Every day is same; every day is different,” Patti Parker said.
In addition to the challenges, the days are filled with an outpouring of human ingenuity and kindness.
In setting up the warehouse, she said, “the volunteers worked miracles of organization.” Individuals, businesses and churches keep coming with supplies and food. Volunteer groups from around the country cook, clear debris and help.
Friends, family and their church, Smithville Baptist, have continued to wrap their love around the family.
Regional Rehabilitation Center in Tupelo, where Johnny receives speech therapy for stuttering related to his cerebral palsy, arranged for MLM Clothiers to provide a new suit for Johnny, who loves to dress formally and has dreams of becoming a meteorologist.
The outpouring from people who have reached out to her community and her family is nearly overwhelming.
“I’m so thankful,” Patti Parker said. “Friends have helped us … without them, it would not have been possible for any of this to take place.”

Devastating day
Even though they lost their house, so many things went just right for the Parker family on April 27.
Johnny, a weather buff, had no inkling that Smithville and his family would be at the center of the storm, but he was uneasy at the start of the day.
“When I woke up that morning at 6 a.m., I felt that there was something big that was going to happen,” Johnny said.
Randy Parker, Johnny and Chloe were home when the storm hit. After watching the storm approach, they moved into the hall, which was the family’s established safe place. At the last minute, Randy Parker pulled the kids into the bathroom. Seconds later, debris from the rest of the house started flying through the hall.
“It we had stayed in the hallway, we would have been torn to pieces,” Randy Parker said.
Patti Parker was just behind the storm, racing to Smithville from her office on the northeast side of Amory, despite pleas from her family to wait until the weather had completely passed.
“If she had been 30 seconds earlier,” Randy Parker said, “she would have been in the middle of it.”
None of the Parkers could believe what they saw when they made their way out of the house – homes across the street gone, swept away by the tornado. More than half of the roof of their own house was off.
“I couldn’t say one word,” Johnny said. “I was shocked it happened to our town.”
Chloe remembers meeting their mom in the front drive of the house.
“I just held on to her legs,” Chloe said.
Beyond the big miracle of the family’s survival of an EF-5 tornado, they have lots of little miracles.
• Because Chloe had cleaned up her room earlier that week, her clothes were contained in the closet instead of being blown out of the house.
• The roof held over the Parkers’ study, sparing their computer, Patti’s beloved history books and the hurricane book that Johnny had put together detailing two centuries of storms for a class project.
• A neighbor found boxes of Johnny and Chloe’s baby clothes and Christmas ornaments.
• Callie the cat, who was missing for three days, was found safe and sound.
Friends were able to locate most of Johnny’s favorite things, but Chloe lost her collection of old movie posters.
“That kind of stuff is easy to replace, Chloe said. “I’m so glad we’re all right. A lot of people can’t say that.”

New normal
Life is slowly creeping forward.
Since school has let out, Johnny and Chloe have divided their time between their grandparents – Joe and Martha Holland, whose home just outside of Smithville was not damaged – and the warehouse, where they’ve been put to work as volunteers.
Now one month out, the family is slowly acclimating to a new normal – a rental house in Amory that will be home until they rebuild and a town where nothing looks the same.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” Chloe said.
On May 12, a bulldozer finished what the tornado started. It was a necessary step in the post-storm clean-up, but it was still emotionally difficult, family members said.
“That was a bad day,” Chloe said.
The house that sheltered the family for nearly 22 years is now a large pile of rubble waiting for crews to haul it away.
“It was a nice house,” Patti Parker said with a sigh.
The family plans to build a new home on family property just outside of Smithville.

Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@journalinc.com.

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal