'My house is gone'

Jimmy Harris returned home Sunday night to utter devastation. The tornado that destroyed Mossy Grove had come east-over the wooded ridge separating the two communities-and right here to Harris's own backyard.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | JOYNER, Tenn. | November 13, 2002



"That's the first time I ever saw my grandfather break down."

—Josh Pemberton


Jimmy Harris returned home Sunday night to utter devastation. The tornado that destroyed Mossy Grove had come east-over the wooded ridge separating the two communities-and right here to Harris's own backyard.

Huge holes were torn in the roof of his house. All the windows were smashed out. Rain poured inside, ruining the hardwood floors. Debris was strewn all over the lawn.

Harris fell to his knees and sobbed.

"My house is gone," he said. "My house is gone."

"That's the first time I ever saw my grandfather break down," said Josh Pemberton, Harris's grandson. "He hit his knees and hit his elbows right on the concrete and just cried like a baby."

Unlike some other homes here, Harris's home wasn't totally destroyed. But it was damaged badly enough that this house, which Harris built 38 years ago, will have to be demolished.

"Sunday night, I didn't even go to bed, I was so tore up," Harris said. "I just sat in a chair and cried all night."

Harris, however, wasn't home when the twister hit, and he came through the disaster unharmed. Others here weren't so fortunate. Half a mile north of Harris's home, just off Route 62, two members of the Leper family were killed.

Harris and other residents here wandered through the wreckage Tuesday afternoon, salvaging what they could and junking the rest.

Several large bonfires burned all around this community, as well as in the adjoining town of Petros.

All along Route 62, utility poles lay scattered about like snapped toothpicks. Utility workers toiled all day trying to repair downed telephone and power lines. Traffic barely moved. Pedestrians made more progress along the road than vehicles.

Tim Hearne, another Joyner resident, made it through the tornado relatively unscathed.

He, his wife and three dogs rode out the storm behind Jones Grocery, the town's only store.

Hearne said he was surprised to find his home still standing. A massive red oak collapsed right in his front yard, missing his home by about 20 feet.

"We were pretty fortunate," he said.

Hearne was helping his neighbors clean up today. Monday, he said, he wandered about in a daze.

"Even if it doesn't directly hit you-seeing how it affected your neighbors just down the road-you're just not right for a few days," he said.

Hearne is convinced that residents, whom he calls -- "good mountain folk" -- will rebuild.

"Till mankind quits roaming the earth, people will be living on the flatlands of these Tennessee mountains," he said.


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