Home » MBJ FEATURE » Yazoo City perseveres after storm

Yazoo City perseveres after storm

For second time this year, tornado damages two major business districts in Yazoo City

Susan Cartwright-Guion and a cadre of helpers formed a furniture-hauling assembly line across Main Street in Yazoo City last Tuesday morning.

Cartwright-Guion

Cartwright-Guion is hoping it wasn’t a funeral procession for her hardware store.

For 10 years, Cartwright-Guion has owned and operated Grace Hardware, one of the anchors of Yazoo City’s Main Street retail corridor, and the building that bore the brunt of last Monday night’s EF2 tornado. The twister scored a direct hit on the downtown area and on the U.S. 49 corridor to the northeast.

Its path was slightly north of the trajectory a massive EF4 tornado followed in Yazoo City in April, killing four people in Yazoo County and destroying more than 200 homes.

Last week’s destruction was markedly less than April’s. No fatalities and only minor injuries were reported.

Grace Hardware wasn’t as lucky.

The storm, whose winds were estimated at more than 120 mph, ripped the roof off the 104-year-old building, leaving exposed to heavy rainfall hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of furniture, hardware supplies and knick-knacks. Twelve hours after the twister struck, water nearly ankle-deep stood on the first floor of the three-story building.

While last week’s tornado was far less destructive than the killer twister that hit last April, it dealt Yazoo City a cruel blow just as the community was starting to get back on its feet.

While last week’s tornado was far less destructive than the killer twister that hit last April, it dealt Yazoo City a cruel blow just as the community was starting to get back on its feet.

“No roof left, no insurance,” Cartwright-Guion told a Mississippi Business Journal reporter as she carried — despite the visitor’s insistence on doing so — an antique highchair across Main Street to a dry building. “All our furniture’s wet. All I can do is pray and call for the Mennonites. That’s what I’m doing because I’m not putting a $40,000 roof on that building. As much we can save, I’m going to save. The rest of it is gone.”

When Cartwright-Guion reached dry ground with her highchair, she and a fellow Main Street entrepreneur engaged in a referendum on the Mennonites’ quality of work. They got rave reviews.

“They spent several days at my house with a bulldozer cleaning up after the April storm,” Joanne Adams, who along with her husband owns the event venue The Smoke House and several other buildings downtown, told Cartwright-Guion. “Just bear with it and have faith. So many people got help that didn’t have insurance after the first tornado. People helped us.”

Adams owned the building that is housing salvaged merchandise from Grace Hardware. For the most part, she said, her properties made it through the latest tornado unscathed. Her one building that did have holes in its roof stored belongings she had to move out of her home after it was severely damaged by April’s tornado.

“I had to get my insurance man out here,” Adams said. “We had to move all our stuff out of it because it was leaking. The metal from Susan’s roof and the (Yazoo) County Schools building was all over my roof and it cut holes in it.”

The building that houses Grace Hardware, like every other building downtown, was built immediately after the 1904 fire that burned everything in Yazoo City. “After the fire, there was a race to see who could rebuild the fastest,” said Henry Cote, executive director of the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce.

The Grace building was among the first completed. It warehoused cotton in its early days. A third-floor window on the southwest corner of it provides a view of the Yazoo River. “They used to stand here and watch for the boats that would carry the cotton off,” said Cartwright-Guion, pointing out the window. Three feet above her, what little sunlight last Tuesday offered shone through the remnants of the building’s roof.

The building withstood the 1927 flood and every other weather event imaginable until last Monday. Now its future is uncertain.

“It’s a strong building, but it’s worth more in pieces and parts than it is standing,” Cartwright-Guion said. “It’ll take at least $150,000 to get it back halfway to where it was, and I just can’t do that.”

Directly across Main Street from Grace Hardware, Yazoo Insurance Agency buzzed with activity, even though half of its lights were dark because of a partial loss of electricity.

“We’ve got some leaks, but I think that’s due to the roof on the building next door coming down,” said Bill McGraw, who owns the agency. “Otherwise, we’re in pretty good shape.”

Yazoo Insurance used the adjacent building to store old files, discarded computers and unused furniture. McGraw said everything inside sustained considerable water damage, but nothing critical was lost.

McGraw and his agency now get to deal with a slew of new tornado-related claims, while trying to resolve business and homeowner claims left over from April’s storm. The response of his policyholders was more controlled this time around, McGraw said.

“They’re not panicking this time. After the April tornado, everybody was tuned in and better prepared. But we certainly didn’t anticipate we’d have another one this soon.”

Across town on U.S. 49, the parking lot of Good Hope Feeds was covered with the awning that once adorned the front of the store. Utility lines criss-crossed the entrance. A man who answered the door at Good Hope said its owner was busy calculating damages in anticipation of an insurance adjustor’s arrival and could not speak with a reporter who dropped by.

Right next to Good Hope, at Ubon’s Restaurant, owner Garry Roark was counting his blessings. He had electricity, none of his food had spoiled and his building had made it through the tornado in relatively good shape.

“I’ve got some roof damage and a little bit on the side,” Roark said. “The inside is fine. If they could get this electrical wire out of the way in front of the building, we’d be having fried chicken for lunch. Everything we lost is minimal. It might be $15,000 or $20,000 worth, but you can replace all that. You can’t replace people. We’ll be one-day down, and that’ll be it.”

Photos by Stephen McDill

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