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Behind Cairo’s IGA grocery store sit two historic homes that were damaged heavily in Sunday’s tornado. Hand painted signs perched in front of one of the houses, though, point to a resiliency and sense of humor that Tim White says will get him through this. “You have to lighten the mood, because if you don’t, you’re going to cry,” says White as he walked through his debris strewn front yard Tuesday.
Inside the house, his wife, Sheila, is boxing up items to move to storage. The second story of this yellow painted wood frame house is now open to the elements.
Still, White was able to rescue his favorite architectural feature of the home, an original wood carving that was part of the pediment. “If I saved anything, that’s what I wanted to save,” White said. “Whoever made that, they put extra special attention into it. It was craftsmanship for sure.”
The Whites have been living in a rental unit in Thomasville with their son, Max, a junior in high school. Ironically, White says, they had told their landlord Sunday that they were moving back to Cairo. White was painting inside the house, known as the Powell House, Sunday when he learned bad weather was heading to Cairo. “I decided to ride it out in Thomasville,” he said. So, he missed the tornado ripping the front from his second floor. Luckily, he said, that part of the house was used just for storage and mainly contained plastic storage bins.
Across the road, White’s childhood home where his mother, Ellen White, still lives, is also open to the elements.
The multi-story, white, wood frame home, has been in the family since Ellen and her late husband, Tom, bought it in 1970. Then, it had been divided into four apartments, Mrs. White explains. They reformed it back into a single family dwelling and raised all four children, Tom Jr., Tim, Tammy (Hester) and Tracey (Edge). After Sunday’s tornado, one would be hard pressed to consider the home suitable for anyone to dwell in considering all of the broken windows in the upstairs not to mention the lack of a roof.
Ms. White credits her friend Jane Ellen Bass, the wife of a former minister at Cairo First United Methodist Church, with warning her about the potential for bad weather. “She knows I don’t watch TV, and she called and told me to watch the weather,” White said.
When she heard the city emergency siren, White says she rushed to a fireplace in the center of the house and held onto the mantle. “The whole house was shaking. I could hear things falling,” she described. “the most eerie thing, I think, was after that two minutes, it was total silence, no rain, no wind, nothing.”
White says her neighbor, Dr. Abdul Bari, and his daughter immediately rushed over to check on her. Although she could see debris everywhere, it was much later before she realized her roof was gone. The open roof did little to protect her belongings from further damage Monday night during a rain shower.
White is now moving all of her belongings to a storage facility and says she plans to restore her historic home.