Word of bad weather was spreading, but it seemed it was a normal day for Turner and Brittany Barnes. Nevertheless, they turned on their evening news, Dave Brown on Action News 5, after getting off work to hear that tornado conditions were favorable in counties surrounding their home outside Oxford. Brittany’s dad, Ricky Murphree, called to let them know they needed to be prepared, to have their shoes and cell phones ready in case of a quick exit. Though it was unusual for him to warn them in these situations, it didn’t faze them.
“Turner and I were like, ‘It’s not going to happen. Nothing like that ever happens around here,’” Brittany said.
But that night, the unexpected did happen.
Between April 25 and 28 in 2011, Mississippi was forced to take part in history as tornadoes ripped through the state, flattening towns, shredding homes and breaking hearts. After surviving those four days, known under record as the largest tornado outbreak in United States history, Mississippians and helping hands from other states began to pick up the scattered pieces. Perseverance and loving connections brought the familiarity of ‘home’ back into the lives of Brittany and Turner Barnes, who lost their cabin in the woods on April 26.
It was Turner’s dream to have his home built on 225 acres of his dad’s land, what the couple named Burgess. The couple, who own The Barn Trading Company in Oxford, had nestled into their home for a year before what took four months to build came down in 15 seconds.
Brittany envisioned the night. She remembered turning off the news at 11 p.m. and climbing into bed. At 2:30 a.m., a funny feeling made her wake Turner, and they looked outside to see the danger approaching.
“The pine trees were bowed over to the ground, snapping,” Brittany said.
With little time to waste, Turner cleared enough room for the couple and their dogs, Bailey and Tater, to fit inside a small storage closet underneath their stairwell just before the patio doors opened. Turner held on to the inside of the closet door, which didn’t have a hinge, as Brittany felt glass and water sweep under the door’s 1-inch crack.
“There was a moment there in the closet where I didn’t think we were going to make it,” Brittany said.
The Barnes family, all four who were huddled in the closet, were safe. After the immediate threat passed, the couple opened the door to notice their little closet, their safe haven, was just about the only area left untouched. The whole second floor of their charming cabin was gone and the outside walls, which framed the kitchen and the living room, had collapsed.
“When we came out, we could see the stars,” Brittany said.
Immediately, they phoned Turner’s parents, who live in Oxford. Getting to the couple’s aid proved to be difficult.
“We couldn’t drive on the road,” said Blake Barnes, Turner’s dad. “We had to make another path.”
Later that morning, around 5:30, the Barneses journeyed back to where home once stood to assess the damage. Shards of glass and live wires stretched along the floor and insulation hung on every surface. Brittany said pieces from their home were found five miles away.
“It totaled the house,” Turner said.
Though disaster struck, home wasn’t gone for long. Turner called his insurance agent, Hugh Brown, and the couple started rebuilding right away through Mallard Creek Constructions. Turner said it took Chad Russum and his staff at Mallard Creek Constructions approximately five months to rebuild. After the rebuilding was completed, the Barneses had a longer outside patio, 9-feet added to their home and a safer place to hide should disaster strike again.
“Needless to say, we built a storm shelter this time around,” Brittany said.
Though nearly two years have passed, Turner said they are still cleaning up.
Brittany agreed, “You can ride the land and see tin in trees and things of that nature.”
Now the Barneses live with two welcomed additions, Walt, their 7-month-old son, and Babe, a black lab. Their new home is built with relics reminding them of their experience and of the life of their land. An old barn that stood on the property sets the trim of the cabin and the barn’s door now serves as the surface for their coffee table. Brittany and Turner also managed to find bricks in the woods from their old fireplace and pieced them together for a second, outside fireplace. They even found old, yet intact, frames they dug out of the dirt to form a collage on their wall. They repurposed what they could save and each day they remember they survived.
“Every day we’re reminded of it for sure, being out here,” Brittany said. “It’s something we’re not going to forget.”
Story by Kristen Stephens // Old photo submitted; New photos by Phillip Waller