LOUISVILLE, Miss.—Peggy knew what that noise meant.
Her daughter, Jeana, had told her over and over, if you ever hear any noise that sounds at all like a train is coming, do not hesitate.
On Monday, Peggy, 75, heard that sound and remembered. She quickly grabbed a big pillow and blanket, raced to the hallway and covered her head with seconds to spare.
Moments later, the mile-wide tornado that killed nine people in Winston County, her county, demolished the home she’s lived in for nearly 40 years.
But Peggy somehow survived with just bumps and bruises and maybe a small fracture in her arm. And the first person she called? Jeana.
“My house is gone,” Peggy told her daughter. “My house is gone.”
Jeana, upstairs at her home in Hunstville, Ala., started to scream.
How much more could her mother take? She lost her husband of more than 50 years, Billy, to a battle with leukemia, two weeks ago to the day. She helped bury both a brother and cousin in the past nine months.
And now her home?
On Thursday, Rapid Response Team chaplains Pookie and Mike Mattingly had the privilege of praying with Peggy at her home—or what was left of it. And even though Peggy hadn’t been up to talk to anyone, when she heard chaplains with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had come to visit, “she just started to cry,” according to Pookie.
Pookie heard a few details of that harrowing afternoon from Peggy. Crawling across glass and debris in her house. Meeting her next-door neighbor, with a bloody face, who had come over to check on her.
But mostly, Peggy couldn’t get many words out. But she did know Christ as her savior and she welcomed prayer from the chaplains.
“She told me, ‘I will get through this with His help,’” Pookie said. “He’s the only thing that will keep me going.”
Her two daughters were doing their best to give their mother strength and support. But Jeana, for one, kept reliving the 2011 F5 tornado that hit her hometown of Huntsville, and wiped out neighborhoods all around her home, yet spared hers.
“I called my mom that day and told her ‘A tornado is here, I love you, I hope to see you soon,’ “ Jeana said. “The last one, I could say my house is still here. This one is different.”
As Samaritan’s Purse workers helped clear Peggy’s property, Jeana discovered not only all the crosses in the house had survived intact—even the glass ones—but her father’s favorite pocket knife also turned up.
It was exactly the boost the family needed on this day. Just like the visiting chaplains, who mostly provided a listening ear, which is exactly what was needed.
“I’ve heard after a disaster like this, it takes a person to tell their story up to a hundred times (for healing),” Jeana said. “I’ve listened to a lot of stories, but it’s never been mine.
“Yes, people tell the same stories over and over. But having someone else (like the Rapid Response Team) come in and listen, that’s what matters.”
Grandparents Saved the Day
Willie and Francine were born in the same year, 1947. Both born and raised in Louisville, they had never experienced a tornado strike. But when Monday’s hit, they were ready. And their quick action may have saved more than just their lives.
Hearing the warning sirens, Willie and Francine piled all five of their grandchildren, including an 8-month-old, into their bathroom, including themselves. Well, mostly, “my legs were still in the hall,” Willie said.
The couple, who came by the Rapid Response Team Mobile Command Unit and talked with chaplains on Thursday, lost their house, but not their lives.
“I just thank the Lord that we’re alive,” Willie said. “I can’t question Him. He’s all-powerful and knows everything.”
The worst storm in his lifetime to hit Louisville, Willie can still hear that 4:30 strike in his head. “It sounded like one big train pulling a load,” he said.
“I knew it was coming, but it happened so quick,” Francine said. “I was just praying.”
4th Deployment Added
Already ministering in Louisville, Miss., Mayflower, Ark., and Baxter Springs, Kan., the Rapid Response Team has added a fourth deployment to Augusta, Ala., just outside of Huntsville.
In fact, within an hour of her mom’s home getting hit, Jeana’s husband watched a tornado begin to form in the distance from their home in Huntsville.
Mike Clark, a Huntsville resident, will be the chaplain coordinator for the Augusta deployment, the 10th of the year. The Rapid Response Team has deployed to more than 175 disasters since it began in the aftermath of 9/11.