Houston’s Peoples building new memories after the storm

Last April, Sandra Peoples of the Houston community lost her home of nearly 50 years to the tornado that devastated portions of Lee and Itawamba counties. In many ways, her new home is nicer than her old: It’s larger and has newer amenities. Still, she says it’s just not the same, although it’s getting there. (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Houston community’s Sandra Peoples said her new mobile home isn’t very much like her old house.

In many ways, it’s better. It’s larger, for one thing, and has far more modern amenities than the house she called home for nearly 50 years. But it’s just not the same.

“It’s very strange, but it’s getting better,” she said of living in the mobile home that replaced her house of 47 years, which was lost during last April’s tornado, the same one that ripped through Itawamba and Lee counties. Peoples’ house was one of many destroyed by the storm.

Nearly one year later, Peoples said she’s getting adjusted to her new place, which sits on the same property as the one she lost. Still, it took months for the place to stop feeling alien to her.

“For a while, it felt like I was visiting some place,” she said. “And when I went to bed, it was like I was in a motel room or something.”

Peoples knows things will continue to get better. It just takes time.

What she had

Peoples rode out the storm at a nearby friend’s house. Like most of those affected, Peoples said she didn’t realize the extent of the destruction caused by the tornado until long after it had ended. But it didn’t take long for her to know how much the storm had personally affected her. Around 15 minutes after the storm ended, she received a phone call from a friend. It was bad news; her house was gone.

“It doesn’t take long for the news to go around,” she said.

Peoples couldn’t return to her home … or, at least, where it used to stand … until late that night. Trees were down everywhere, making passage impossible. Although she knew her house was gone, the reality of it didn’t sink in until she was standing there staring at the empty slab of concrete foundation.

“There were no walls … no nothing,” she said. “It made me sick.”

But, as these storms often do, the tornado was choosy with what it took from Peoples. Her home was gone … walls and everything. But smack in the middle of the empty foundation was her husband’s old recliner … the one which she’d debated tossing a hundred times. There was nothing else, just the chair sitting aloof on a slab of naked concrete.

Now, the chair sits in her new living room … one of the few artifacts left from her old home. There are some others, here and there: chipped dinnerware lines the upper shelves of her new kitchen; in one of her new bedrooms, there are several knick knacks recovered from the debris of her old home. The colorful handcrafted doily her mother-in-law gave to her as a wedding gift survived. Most of what she owned may have been scattered to the wind, but Peoples was still left with valuable bits of her old life.

“Things that couldn’t be replaced, it seemed like God left them for me,” she said.

What she has

Peoples wasn’t alone in rebuilding her life and home. Volunteers from across the county, state and country poured into the area to help those who lost their homes rebuild.

“There’s a lot of wonderful people in Itawamba County and the surrounding areas,” she said. “By the time I got back here, there were people everywhere. You don’t realize how good people are until something like this happens.”

For a spell, Peoples lived with her daughters, traveling back and forth between their homes. When it came time to rebuild, she considered buying a house. But that just didn’t seem right. Despite all that had happened to her, she didn’t want to leave the place where she’d spent so much of her life. Instead of purchasing a new house, she bought a manufactured home and had it placed on her old property … a new home atop the remains of the old.

Although she’s been in her new home since July, it’s just now beginning to feel like it’s where she belongs. So much of her past was tied up in the old place. It wasn’t just Peoples’ “things” that were lost to the storm; it was her history.

“This is where me and my husband lived. My kids were born and raised here,” she said. “I’m thankful for what I’ve got now. But I had to give up a lot to get what I got now.”

“All my memories were in that house … and there were a lot of memories,” she added.

Peoples’ new place doesn’t quite feel like home just yet. But it will get there.

“I’m building new memories here,” she said.

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