Among the vestiges of destruction, a resurrection of sorts has taken shape in Yazoo City since the 2010 storm. The Hillcrest Baptist Church, destroyed first by fire, then by nature, has been rebuilt on a hillside at the edge of town. The members of this small congregation are a determined and faithful lot who consider it nothing short of a miracle.
"A church encompasses a community," Pastor Rayburn Freeman said on a recent morning. "You're not talking about one little building up on a hill; you're talking about a whole community."
The church is planning a dedication ceremony Sunday to celebrate its new building, and perhaps nobody is more thankful to be here for it than longtime member Dale Thrasher.
Thrasher, 61, was the only person in the church on April 24, 2010, a Saturday, when it was hit by a tornado that killed at least 10 people. Thrasher dove under a communion table just moments before the twister ripped the church apart.
He survived with barely a scratch. A hymnal found later in the debris nearby was turned to the song, "Till The Storm Passes By."
"'Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry," the lyrics say. "Keep me safe, till the storm passes by."
You'd be hard pressed to convince Thrasher that was a coincidence, and there's no use saying the small, wood communion table saved his life.
"It wasn't the table that saved me. It was the Lord who saved me," Thrasher said recently while showing off the new brick building. "When I seen those windows busting, I just bowed my head and prayed, 'Lord save me.' It was like he put his arms around me."
Hillcrest Baptist Church was founded in 1992 with a congregation of about two dozen people in a town known for blues, catfish and cotton. It was burned in 1999 by an arsonist who was never charged. The church was rebuilt bigger and better.
It stood for years on the hill just off Highway 49, where it was one of the first things people saw when driving into Yazoo City from the south. Then the tornado wiped it away, and like in the passages in the Bible, the believers and doubters came forward.
"Some people around here thought they wouldn't build back, but they were determined," said Yazoo City Mayor McArthur Straughter, who is not a member of the church.
"When something like that happens it makes you wonder how long before your community will be back the way it was. But we have managed to weather the storm, as they say," Straughter said.
The tornado that hit the church left a path of devastation from the Louisiana line to east-central Mississippi, damaging dozens of homes and businesses. At the time, Gov. Haley Barbour, who grew up in Yazoo City, called the scene "utter obliteration."
The congregation has been meeting in a temporary location lent by another church, and attendance fell from the 100 or so who used to show up on Sundays. But there have been a couple of services in the new church while the finishing touches have been put on, and it appears the congregation will reach the levels it was before the storm.
"The Lord has blessed us from the time we started on this building," said longtime member Alton Rivers, a 71-year-old retiree. "One of the greatest blessings my wife and I had was watching them raise the steeple. That was the crowning moment."
The congregation was able to rebuild and are debt free thanks to donations that poured in, including cash sent from Australia and money from a Jewish children's school.
"Just depend on God for everything. He'll take you through the storm and bring you back," Thrasher said. "Now just pray that the Lord is going to fill this building up."