Mississippi regained Shuqualak rebuilding after April tornado

Charlie Higginbotham walks away from the remains of his convenience store in Shuqualak, Miss., on April 11, after it was hit by a tornado. Higginbotham, 90, built the store in 1958 for his wife to run in the rural east Mississippi community and later it was turned into an apartment for family.

Rogelio V. Solis

Two months after a devastating tornado swept through Noxubee County, the residents of Shuqualak are rebuilding their homes and their lives.

Running Water Road received the brunt of the April 11 tornado, where nine mobile homes were destroyed, the winds seeming to pick up and drop the home as effortlessly as a child picking a dandelion. While residents were grateful that no lives were lost on that fateful day, they worried about whether they would have the money necessary to rebuild, fearful that federal assistance wouldn’t come.

While the damage to the area after the storm was clearly evident — towering pines snapped in half lay next to houses with knocked out windows and missing shingles — the total amount the damage did not reach the mandated $4 million mark that triggers the flow of federal rebuilding funds.

Without federal assistance, some residents are struggling to rebuild.

One of the first houses on Running Water Road belongs to Inell King. Her son, Frank King, is building a brick home next door to where his mother’s badly damaged mobile home sits vacant. Inell King’s mobile home sustained heavy damage to the roof and front entrance, making it uninhabitable. While the town did not qualify for federal assistance, insurance money is allowing King to rebuild.

After seeing how easily his mother’s home was damaged, he and his brother decided to build her a brick home instead of purchasing another mobile home.

“It’s nothing but a tinder box,” Frank King said of the mobile home. Plus, with a single-family home you have more value. You can’t go wrong with a single-family home.”

King said that while the tornado was devastating to the town, the insurance money his mother received is allowing them to build her a bigger, nicer home.

“It was a two-blade sword,” he said, “sad on one hand, happy on the other because it gave me an opportunity now to rebuild.”

While the home is being built, Inell is staying with relatives.

Frank King said in a time of need, the people of Shuqualak will always come together.

“It’s a great place to live. There are kind people, loving people, people who will help you out.,” Frank King said. “There’s no place like home.”

Frank King’s brother, Jimmy King, isn’t quite as optimistic as his brother.

“We’ve almost got to sell the family farm to give (Inell) somewhere to go,” he said.

Jimmy King also questioned how the residents who did not have insurance were supposed to rebuild.

“Without federal funding ... whether it’s one home or 50 homes that are damaged, we need help,” he said.

Down the road, Shirley and William Anthony Seabrum are two of the few whose home was deemed structurally sound after the tornado. While their roof was damaged and they lost two trees in the front yard, the couple have been able to stay in their home. But what was once a busy street is now quiet except for the occasional train whistle in the distance.

William Seabrum said that without federal assistance, his neighbors had no choice but to leave the area.

“Zero equals zero. Ain’t no help coming,” he said. “If you ain’t got no insurance, you ain’t got nothing.”

His wife disagrees, however, and said because the majority of people who lived on Running Water Road lived on family-owned land, they will move back.

“I think the ones that were in this area are going to move back. It’s their home. I don’t imagine they’ve got nowhere else to go,” Shirley Seabrum said.

“You’ve got to have something to get a house. If you don’t have something to get a house, the land will still be there,” William Seabrum said. “Any way you look at it, it’s still a lost ball in high wheat. Any way you look at it.”

As she sighed and looked out the window, Shirley Seabrum said, “Ain’t nobody here now but us.”

On April 11, Shirley Seabrum, at home with her oldest son and a friend, looked out the same living room window as she watched the storm begin to brew. Before she knew what happened, the twister touched down, disappearing as quickly as it came.

“This is where I was looking out there and the cloud was so dark and all of a sudden, the ice hit. I didn’t see the storm but when the ice came the trees fell, so that was the tornado done hit in only a second,” she said.

William Seabrum was trying to get home to his family.

“I was down the road up on the hill and it got so bad I couldn’t see the highway so I had to pull over,” he said.

When he finally made it home, navigating through downed trees and power lines, he saw his brick home had little damage compared to those of his neighbors. However, their son’s vehicle had been crushed by a fallen pine.

What used to be two large pines is now a wood pile near the edge of the road.

Two months later, Shirley Seabrum said she’s still anxious when the weather turns.

“When it gets cloudy it kind of scares people, you know when it gets ready to rain and the clouds get dark,” she confessed. “I think it frightens all of us right now when the weather gets bad because they wonder is the tornado coming back.”

While the majority of the damage was in the county, Shuqualak Mayor Thelma Jenkins said she has seen the kindness of strangers in the past two months.

“We are still dealing with it,” Jenkins said. “Whatever residual effects are here, we’re removing it. We didn’t have enough damage to receive federal dollars. However, people have come forward and helped in many ways to remove the debris.”