By Therese Apel
Clinton — As part of the Easter season, Palm Sunday is, for many, a time of reflection on renewal and rebirth.
After a tornado ripped through several neighborhoods Friday, destroying decades-old homes and damaging scores more, some in Clinton say they feel that even more deeply this year.
Sunday night, metro-area churches and the Salvation Army held a community healing service in the Big Lots parking lot on Clinton Boulevard. Hundreds of people turned out to pray, sing, hug and even shed a few tears as they looked to find God’s hand in the storms.
“The tornado jumped right over Eastside Elementary School and saved all 800 children inside,” said Salvation Army Capt. Ken Chapman.
Clinton Mayor Rosemary Aultman added the tornado destroyed several houses right across the street from the school as well as near the nursery at Morrison Heights Baptist Church.
“It went not within miles, but within feet of that day care and that school,” she said. “We’ve had a miracle.”
Church leaders from throughout the area led the group in prayers for the community and its residents as well as for its leaders, both spiritual and otherwise.
“And we must rejoice in these miracles we’ve experienced and seen and rejoice in the goodness of our people and of those that have come here to help,” Aultman said.
It has been that community effort that has kept so many people afloat in the aftermath of the storm, those attending the service said.
Shelly Amos and her children had come to Clinton from Byram to see whether her childhood home in the Easthaven subdivision was still there. She said she had driven by and seen a “massive” pile of limbs in the yard and tarps on the roof.
“I didn’t even remember there being enough trees there to make all those limbs,” she said. “But I stopped and asked those people if we could help them clean or anything. I can’t imagine what they’re going through because it was hard for me, and I don’t even live there anymore.”
The current residents of the home let her help a little, she said. As she watched her children, 9 and 13 years old, carry debris to the road, she thought of her memories there, too.
“I played dolls in that same yard,” she said. “I was their age then. I can’t quit wanting to cry.”
Jennifer Cheek said she and her family weren’t home when trees fell on her house in Clinton. She said she hoped the community healing service would set people’s priorities straight.
“I think a lot of people will come to appreciate what they have,” she said.
That’s exactly what pastor Darnell McWhirter of Pleasant Green Church prayed for, as well, as he told the group God is able to restore not only the things they’d lost but their broken hearts and weary souls.
“People lost homes, cars, trees, shrubs … but no one lost their life, and for that we’re so thankful,” he said.
Aultman said another thing to be grateful for was that the city’s disaster plans were so well executed by police, fire and city work crews.
“They have worked together to answer hundreds, even millions, of questions and fielded all these requests, and they’ve done it patiently and professionally,” she said. “They’re the best.”
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency released a statement Sunday, saying damage from the storms was concentrated in Greene, Hinds, and Kemper counties and assessments will begin today.
Hinds County had 34 homes destroyed. Another 117 sustained major damage, and 162 sustained minor damage. Three businesses were destroyed, six had major damage and 10 had minor damage.
In Kemper County, 26 homes were destroyed, with 17 more taking major damage and 16 minor damage. Three businesses were destroyed and, one had minor damage.
Greene County recorded one storm-related death. There were 23 homes destroyed, 28 with major damage and 47 with minor damage. Five businesses were destroyed, while five more had major damage and four had minor damage.
Residents with damage to their homes or businesses should report it immediately to their local emergency management agency, MEMA officials said.
In Clinton, Jehu Brabham, administrator of Parkway Baptist Church, said the rest of the country might be able to say a lot of negative things about the state of Mississippi. But after watching his community and others pull together when people are displaced and their lives have been derailed by a disaster, he said the people of the Magnolia State have a definite advantage in at least one area.
“One thing they can never say is that Mississippians don’t love each other,” he said.