The Rev. Mike Hornsby has a new address.
His house is on the same 2-acre lot as his former Willie Hodnett Road home, but it now faces Murphy Road.
Hornsby said that’s how God spun his house around on the night of April 27, 2011, so that’s how they positioned it when they rebuilt.
“I guess God wanted it that way,” he said.
Hornsby and his wife Susan were one of several victims of the EF-2 tornado that touched down first near Cannonville Road and bounced along a path south of LaGrange from New Hutchinson Mill Road to Murphy Road, along Long Cane Creek to Hamilton Road and finally lifting for good at Knott Road. A second EF-1 hit the Harrisonville community west of Hogansville earlier that night. About 15 homes were destroyed and 50 more received serious damage in the event.
The Hornsbys and their two dogs, Maci and Little Man, were in the bulls-eye of the southern storm.
Susan Hornsby was keeping a watchful eye on the weather, but it was Little Man, the family daschund, who sounded the first warning.
“He’s our alert system,” Mike Hornsby said. “He was running around and making a whining sound he’d never made before. They say that’s the pressure on their ears.”
Susan Hornsby and Little Man retreated to shelter in a bathroom – the only room in the house without windows – but Mike Hornsby stayed up, watching the local weather from the comfort of his recliner.
About 11:30 p.m., it got noisy. Susan Hornsby told her husband he better get in the bathroom with her, and he did. They felt the house lift up.
“I said ‘We’re moving,’” Hornsby said. “I didn’t know where we were going.”
Hornsby now believes, after talking with emergency management officials, that when the storm pulled the sunroof off the back of the house, enough wind got inside to lift it and spin it, even tearing out a part of the concrete foundation.
The garage also was torn off and to this day has never been recovered, even just parts.
When the storm passed – and the house landed – the Hornsby’s were dazed in the pitch black. Maci, a boxer, had run off but would return after a short time. They wound up leaving the scene about 2 a.m. and spending the night with relatives. The next day the recovery and rebuilding for Hornsby and his neighbors began.
Along with Susan Hornsby’s wedding band, which was the only thing she wanted saved, the couple was able to salvage furniture from two bedrooms where the roof didn’t collapse, most of their clothing, and most importantly their photo albums. Everything had been blown off an entertainment center, but the doors on the bottom stayed closed where the pictures were stored.
“Everything else was pretty much destroyed,” Mike Hornsby said.
Hornsby admits they considered moving out of the storm-ravaged neighborhood where they have lived for 18 years. There were a lot of foreclosed houses in the area they could have bought for a good deal.
“Then my elderly aunt down the road said ‘You’re not moving, are you?’” he said. “I knew we had to stay.”
The state of the economy also helped speed their recovery. Building was slow, so it took just four months for the couple to move back in their new house.
It has a basement.
“It’s just one room, but it makes us feel a little better,” he said.
Neither Hornsby or his wife had ever been through a tornado before the storm a year ago and bad weather had never bothered him. Before.
This December, just after they’d moved in, there were storms and tornado warnings in the area. Mike Hornsby admits he got a little nervous.
But their new house is built back better than what they had before the tornado. For that, Hornsby credits good insurance.
“That’s the advice I would give anyone, is make sure you are adequately insured,” he said. His wife designed the house to look like a newly constructed house the couple had seen on a walk on nearby Bartley Road even before the storm. And along with what they managed to salvage in the days after the tornado, there are other touches of the past.
A barn on the property was damaged during the storm and eventually demolished, but not before the wood was recovered. Hornsby’s associate pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, Marion Hammond, refinishes and rebuilds furniture. Hammond made the couple a dining room table from the barn wood.
He also refinished an old mantle that had been in the barn for years. It’s now prominent in the living room of the new house.
The family was able to celebrate Thanksgiving in their new house.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “We had 30 to 40 people here.”
Still, for a while, Hornsby admits he felt like he was waking up in someone else’s house.
By Christmas, though, it felt like home.
“(Susan) teaches at Hollis Hand Elementary and the staff there gave her an ornament shower,” he said. “We had the tree with all the ornaments.”
The Hornsby’s still are grateful to the community that came together, particularly the Red Cross, his church family and Susan Hornsby’s school family, to help after the storm.
“There are still good people in the world,” he said.
The Hornsbys are Red Cross volunteers and ironically had been on call that night to respond to storm-damaged areas.
“We wound up being the victims,” he said.
Hornsby still checks on his neighbors, even those who decided not to rebuild after the storm and moved away. Signs of life are returning to the quiet country road, however, and Troup County even has plans to widen and repave Murphy Road. Cleanup of left behind tree damage was visible this week.
Given the time of night the storm hit, it’s a miracle their weren’t more injures. Just one man was injured in the storm.
“From a Christian point of view, I thank God that he spared our lives and the lives of our neighbors,” Hornsby said. “It’s given me a different perspective. God has a plan for all of us.”
And Hornsby said he and his wife likely will stop at some point tonight and thank God for that.
“We will pause and give thanks,” he said. “And probably relive it all over again.”