It was such a perfect day on the drive over from Jackson, Mississippi, Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains Jim and Sandy Giannestras found it hard to believe that a terrible storm had passed through the area. But when they got to The Four Points, just outside Yazoo City, the damage they saw was “extraordinary.”
“The trees were literally twisted, not broken or washed down, but actually twisted,” Jim said in a phone interview yesterday. “We saw a lot of scraps from homes and people’s belongings were stuck in the trees and in the power poles.”
Only five tornadoes in recorded history have confirmed damage paths longer than the April 24 tornado, which traversed nearly the entire width of Mississippi before dissipating.
The National Weather Service said the tornado was 1.75 miles wide – a record for Mississippi. It killed 10 people, injured at least 49 and damaged about 700 homes as it plowed nearly 150 miles through state. At last count 10 people died in Mississippi as result of the twister, and four of those were in Yazoo County.
Yazoo City Fire Batallion Chief, James Mallett, said “This here, to Yazoo County, this is probably bigger than Katrina.”
Just days after the tornado tore through town, Rapid Response Team chaplains joined with volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse in bringing hope to the bewildered homeowners.
Giannestras and his wife, who arrived April 27, are struck by the cooperation they are witnessing. “It’s a beehive of activity. People are working like crazy to help their neighbors.”
Now that the chaplains have settled in, they have begun to provide spiritual and emotional care to residents of Yazoo City. “It helps the victims to see that there are individual caring people who are willing to come in and offer them hope,” said Giannestras. “They realize that the government can do so much and the community can do so much, but when they’ve lost their home and their memories – and in some cases a family member has died – no amount of physical aid is going to make it all better.”
Remember the families of those who died, homeowners who lost everything, and for RRT chaplains and SP volunteers.
People need to know that someone who “carries the name of Jesus is willing to come in and share that they still have a future and a hope,” he added.
The chaplains have already begun building relationships. “People are sending neighbors over to get help,” said Giannestras. “They obviously have a desire to talk. Once you get started, they love to talk with you.
“When an organization like ours comes in, there is an immediate reception because of the name recognition.”
The biggest concern in Yazoo City right now, according to Giannestras, is another impending storm. “There is a heightened psychological awareness. People have heard about the potential of more tornadoes in a couple of days. They are definitely anticipating this weekend’s threat of rain, hail and possible tornadoes. Conditions are supposed to be the same as they were before the last one.”