LAGRANGE, Ga. (BP)–The day after tornadoes swept through Troup County, Ga., Mike Hornsby, pastor of New Hope Church in LaGrange, and his wife Susan sorted through the rubble that once was their house. Family and friends came by to offer help and hugs. They each told the story of the violent storm again and again.
It never got any easier to tell.
Late on Wednesday night, April 27, the couple watched television and listened on a weather radio to reports of the coming storm. Susan Hornsby, an elementary school teacher, was the first one to head to the only room in the house without a window — the bathroom.
“My dog was going crazy. I figured he knew something that we didn’t know,” she said.
Her husband continued to watch the weather reports on TV but joined his wife when he saw reports of a tornado coming toward them. It was one of more than 170 tornadoes that tore through the U.S. that day, killing at least 318 — the most since 1932 — and devastating the South.
“The wind was really picking up, there was a loud noise that really did sound like a train,” Mike Hornsby said.
Susan Hornsby was lying in the bathtub, while her husband sat next to her, holding her hand. She told him to put a pillow on his head.
“I bent over and covered my head and that’s when it happened,” he said. “It happened so fast.”
A tornado picked up the house, turned it completely around and dropped it nearly 140 feet from the foundation. When Mike Hornsby tried to sit up, he couldn’t. A plank from a picket fence had flown from outside the house and pierced the wall where his head had been.
The couple felt the house move but didn’t realize it had rotated. Once the wind settled down, they left the bathroom to check the damage.
“We were so disoriented. It was dark and raining and the house was facing a different direction. We couldn’t tell where we were,” Mike Hornsby said.
The sunroom on the front of the house had disappeared. They still have no idea where it — or its pieces — landed. The carport was torn off and destroyed. Their two vehicles were smashed together and covered with debris. The dogs were fine.
“Our dachshund was in the bathroom with us. I was afraid we lost our boxer, but she got out and she’s fine, too,” he said.
The morning after the storm, they picked through the debris, gathering what few pieces of their lives they could find. For Susan Hornsby, that meant only one thing.
“I have an anniversary ring and I didn’t know where it was. Mike said we’d get another one, but it wasn’t the same. I really wanted that one,” she said. Her son Chris crawled through the master bedroom rubble and found the ring under the bed.
“That’s all I really wanted,” she said to friends, showing off the ring on her finger.
She and her husband have put the loss in perspective.
“I’ve always said there’s a difference between a house and a home,” Mike Hornsby said. “I lost my house, but I’ve still got my home. I’ve still got my wife.”
The tornado outbreak left entire neighborhoods in ruins. At least 210 fatalities have been confirmed in Alabama alone.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were on the ground the day after the outbreak, helping find survivors and preparing to set up feeding units, shower units and to deploy chainsaw crews. Donations to disaster relief can be made to state conventions, or directly to the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief fund, at NAMB.net, or by calling 1-866-407-NAMB (6262). A $10 donation can be made by texting “NAMBDR” to the number “40579.”
Sherri Brown is a special assignment reporter for The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, online at christianindex.org.