Perfectly intact: Storm survivor smiles in face of disaster

 

Ozark's Mary Vick, one of two Itawamba County residents injured during the devastating April 28 tornado, sits on her battered couch, which no longer has a living room to house it. Piled behind her are the remains of Vick's house, now twisted together with several trees that stood on her property prior to the storm. (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Ozark’s Mary Vick, one of two Itawamba County residents injured during the devastating April 28 tornado, sits on her battered couch, which no longer has a living room to house it. Piled behind her are the remains of Vick’s house, now twisted together with several trees that stood on her property prior to the storm. (Photo by Adam Armour – CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

At least Mary Vick has her teeth back. That’s one thing.

For a while there, she’d thought she’d lost them. When the April 28 tornado tore its way through the northwest corner of Itawamba County, Vick was at home. Her dentures were by her bedside when the tornado sent her mobile home rolling.

“My husband kept telling me that somebody in Alabama was wearing them,” she says, loosing a dry laugh.

Turns out, he was wrong; the teeth were discovered among the scattered wreckage of her home, now spread across 2.5 acres of land in the Ozark community. After a quick brush, they were back in her mouth where they belonged.

“That’s $1,200 saved right there,” she says with a nod.

Perched atop the hill where her house had been standing less than three weeks ago, Vick motions to the spread of debris.

“Some of my stuff’s over there, and some of my stuff’s over there,” she says, pointing one direction, then the other. “My stuff’s spread all over.”

Nearby, what’s left of her home is curled into a fist of metal and wood, a crumpled ball of trees, architecture and furniture. She approached it, and pointed to a small cavity under the structure. That’s where her neighbor found her, buried in rubble.

“I was in good spirits when they drug me out of there,” she says. “Come over to the kitchen so we can sit and talk.”

Her ‘kitchen’ consists of a round mosaic table and some benches positioned in the shade beneath the broken branches of a tree. They hang from the trunk in an upside-down V, forming a sort of lean-to shelter. One of two beagles, both survivors themselves, sleeps in the dirt at her feet.

Vick lights a cigarette and lets it smoke itself as she talks. She’s very animated, smoke trailing from her hand as she describes her experience in the storm … at least, what she can fully remember.

“I was watching the storm on the news when the power went out,” she says.

Vick says she stood and went to the front door of her home, trying to decide where to go to keep safe, when the storm hit full force. The next thing she knew, she was rolling.

 

Vick shows off the small hole in which she was buried for several minutes following the collapse of her home. She was rescued by her neighbors. (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Vick shows off the small hole in which she was buried for several minutes following the collapse of her home. She was rescued by her neighbors. (Photo by Adam Armour – CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

“I went over and over and over, then crashed,” she says, flipping her cigarette lighter across the tabletop to simulate the careening mobile home. “Next thing I knew, I was laying in the floor of my husband’s shed, 30 feet back from where I started.”

Vick laughs, then adds, “I was standing on the floor, but apparently decided I wanted to be like Spider-Man and walk on walls, because that’s where I ended up.”

When her trailer landed, it was face-down on its front. Vick was pinned in the crumpled remains. There was a two or three foot gap between her and a ceiling of rubble. A small hole above her face let her see the sky. It was enough room to move, if she didn’t panic.

Then the tree fell.

“I heard a crack, and everything got smaller,” she said, holding one palm above the other, then pressing them together.

Now, she really was trapped. Air conditioner, fridge door, pieces of tin, fiberglass, sheet rock and plywood were stacked on top of her. Everything but the kitchen sink … though, that might have been there, too, come to think of it.

Disoriented and, she later discovered, injured, panic started to set in.

That’s when she heard her dead grandmother talking to her, telling her to stay calm.

“She told me to quit flipping and that I would be OK,” Vick says, pointing her finger in a lecturing sort of way.

Hearing her grandmother’s voice relaxed her, she said.

“I had air; I could breathe. I wasn’t really squished. I just kind of exhaled and laid there.”

Vick says she isn’t sure how long she was trapped there when she heard her neighbor’s voice calling for her. It couldn’t have been long … maybe 10 minutes at the most. It felt like eternity twice over.

There was a hole, no bigger than a small picture frame, through which she could slip her fingers. She used this to signal her rescuers. After digging for a few moments, they were able to pull Vick from the wreckage, punctured and bleeding. Vick received 27 stitches for 10 puncture wounds, mostly on her hands and arms.

Not that her injuries affected her too much. Emergency personnel had to catch her to patch her up. She was bouncing around like a pinball from one thing to the next.

“I looked down and saw bone and muscle and veins,” she says. She holds up her right hand, revealing a stitched gash across her knuckles.

“I didn’t even realize I had this,” she says.

Vick stands and begins to walk through the wreckage of her home. As she goes, she points out a variety of items mixed into the debris, often laughing as she does.

“What’s my shower curtain doing in my husband’s shed?” she says, pulling a swatch of plastic from a mound of rubble.

For the time being, Vick’s life is kind of at a standstill. As of late last week, she was still waiting on FEMA to process her claim. Home is a small camper on loan from a friend. It sits overlooking the scattered remains of her house.

“You remember that movie ‘The Hobbit?” she asks suddenly. “Well, we’re going to live underground like Mr. Baggins.”

When asked if any of her belongings survived the storm, Vick says very few.

“About the only thing I’ve been able to salvage are my whatnots … things I can’t really use in everyday life,” she says.

All things considered, though, she’s in surprisingly good spirits.

“It’s just stuff,” she says. “You can replace stuff. As long as nobody died, I’m happy. I just kind of crack jokes and laugh things off … make a bad situation into a happy situation.”

 

Despite having a house fall on her, Vick's injuries were relatively minor. Here, she shows off several of the 27 stitches she received after being taken to the hospital. (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Despite having a house fall on her, Vick’s injuries were relatively minor. Here, she shows off several of the 27 stitches she received after being taken to the hospital. (Photo by Adam Armour – CLICK PHOTO TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Vick takes a contemplative pull at her cigarette, then continues:

“Say you’re on vacation with your mother-in-law and she turns out to be a real Attila the Hun type. But you just try to enjoy yourself anyway, you know. Have a good time. Turn a bad vacation into a good vacation. That’s what I’m doing.”

She smiles, showing off two rows of perfectly intact dentures.

adam.armour@journalinc.com

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 11 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

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  • Concerned Citizen

    I arrived at my grandparents’ house last night for a family dinner and found several members of my family sitting at the dining room table with a copy of the Itawamba County Times spread open in front of them. Joining them at the table, I read this article while my family, who’d already read it, shook their heads at one another with stoic expressions on their faces. I quickly learned they were appalled not only by the light this article cast on our county, but on the South itself.

    My mouth dropped open as I finished, but I couldn’t help but laugh. “This journalist sounds like he’s writing a novel instead of a newspaper article.”

    After leaving my grandparents’ house I drove home, Skyped my friend in New Jersey, and read the article aloud to her for a more realistic effect. She burst into laughter and insisted the article wasn’t real, believing I’d written what I read aloud as a ruse to fool her.

    After we ended our conversation and the laughter died away, an unsettling feeling washed over me. I fell into a restless sleep and awoke still feeling disappointed by this article. I logged onto the Itawamba County Times Website and pulled up the article, nodding my head as I noticed the author of this article is an accomplished writer, even publishing a novel at some point in his life.

    Just as I suspected.

    As an author, Mr. Armour must understand sensationalism in writing. This article is the very definition of sensationalism. The “smiles” quip in the article title, the missing dentures, and the trail of cigarette smoke as Mrs. Vick spoke … this was my primary focus throughout the article, not the tornado or the damage or the loss of a life she once knew. No, I was focused on aspects one should not focus on in the wake of such tragedy- inconsequential things a journalist shouldn’t focus on in the wake of such tragedy.

    Is this really the way we, members of this community, wish others to view us? People who’ve never visited Itawamba county, people who’ve never visited the South? This article throws every stereotype of the South I’ve defended the past few years directly in all of our faces. And I hate explaining in detail what I specifically mean by this. I would never intentionally insult the subject of this article, but come on. People are, for lack of a better term, idiots if they don’t understand how degrading this article is to our community.

    Mr. Armour, I am in no means a journalist. I’m an amateur writer at best. But, despite my lack of awards and published novels, I do have something called common sense. And common sense tells me you were more concerned with your dramatic flourishes as you studied the way Mrs. Vick touched her cigarette lighter, and spoke of her dentures than you were Mrs. Vick as a person. I can only hope your future articles/endeavors in journalism won’t cast such a bad light on our community, Mr. Armour. Please think about this.

    • guest

      The writer was quoting Mrs. Vick in her own words. It seems to me the writer was capturing the strong will and resolve of Mrs. Vick. The storm took her home and as SHE stated her teeth. It says a lot about Mrs. Vick’s spirit to overcome the devastation she has endured and remain cognizant and mindful of what life is about. She was somehow able to retain a sense of humor through this and it is important for this to be captured. Sorry you got your feelings hurt. Maybe you should spend some time with Mrs. Vick in her “kitchen” or some other survivors. They might enlighten you on some things in life.

      • guest

        By the way, it was a good article. It captured the spirit and resolve of the woman. She seems feisty and full of life. Good for her.

      • Concerned Citizen

        I never once questioned Mrs. Vick’s spirit or her resolve. If you actually read my comment thoroughly you would see where stated I would never insult the subject of this article.

        • guest

          I read it. If the tornado would have torn through YOUR home the writer would have talked to YOU and YOU could have told YOUR story of how YOU survived and how it has destroyed YOUR life. However this is MRS VICK’S story and MRS VICK and the writer decided to put a positive spin on the article to try and uplift other survivors. Sorry you didn’t get the intent of the article.

          • Concerned Citizen

            As I said, my comment had nothing to do with Mrs. Vick. It was the sensationalism aspect of the article. I’m sorry YOU didn’t get the intent of MY comment, which was sensationalism. Other than this aspect, I found the article to be very well-written and I also found Mrs. Vick’s humorous spirit astounding. Still, the dramatic flair of missing dentures and cigarette smoke was distracting to me as a reader. You have a right to voice your opinion just as I have a right to voice mine. You keep throwing the subject of the article in my face as though I were speaking poorly of her … which I wasn’t. Obviously you’re using this as a defense mechanism because you’ve somehow become personally insulted by my opinion. I’m sure the writer of this article appreciates your enthusiasm. Would this article have been less important without the flying dentures and cigarette smoke mentioned? I don’t think so.

          • guest

            You see, when we lost the war, we southerners had to look at life differently. We had to deal with the carpetbaggers, the scalawags and the hatred from our northern counterparts. We somehow managed to survive and make a life. We have been in isolation so long we may have lost touch with how the real world thinks about life. We here take life as it comes with a grain of salt. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about our fellow man, it’s actually the opposite. We pull together in times of need much unlike our northern kin. It’s just that we’ve been through so much we have had to learn it’s better to find humor in life than cry about our troubles. We appreciate your pity and your being able to tell us how we need to feel about things. It’s just that we don’t need it. Thank you for your concerns though. I do pull for the cubs though.

          • Concerned Citizen

            I’m actually from the Ratliff area and have lived in Mississippi my entire life, so the history lesson wasn’t necessary. I’m assuming you mixed me up with the other person commenting on this thread. If you can’t run with the big dogs stay on the porch.

          • guest

            Well Howdy! Ruff Ruff! Bow Wow!

          • PeaceAndSunshine

            You idiocy is showing. Tuck it back in, Guest.

          • guest

            “stupid is as stupid does”

          • PeaceAndSunshine

            So true, Guest. So, I’ll be more plain: you’re being a dick.

          • guest

            Now the fires are burning. Keep’em stoked.

          • Concerned Citizen

            PeaceAndSunshine, please don’t let his or her attitude reflect poorly on those of us living in the South who actually do have more than a lick of sense. <3

          • guest

            Lighten up folks. Go talk to Mrs. Vick. You’re the folks making an ass of yourself.

          • Concerned Citizen

            Again, throwing Mrs. Vick in my face and ignoring the reason for the original comment that rubbed you so raw, leading me to believe you’re just here to argue. Unfortunately for you, I have better things to do with my time. I’m sure you’ll continue to comment, maybe bark at me or talk about corn and the not-so-civil war. I won’t be here to respond, so enjoy arguing with yourself. Just a word of advice before I leave. If you can’t handle criticism in writing maybe you should find a different field to go into. There will always be critics in life. Some of them will approach you in a mature manner and point out the obvious in such a way to help you not make the same mistake again.

            Others will bark at you.

            Good luck with your future endeavors.

            Peace and love.

          • guest

            Hurry back. I miss you already. Peace and love. Ahuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

          • guest

            Oh, I didn’t write the article. You are the one having trouble handling the criticism of your criticism. You started it remember. That’s called hypocrisy and you are too dumb to realize that. But then again you aren’t supposed to realize that. That’s why you wrote what you wrote to begin with. Heck, Mrs. Vick thinks it’s funny. I think you’re funny. You have failed to pick up on that too. You are right about your time. Please go find something else to do. Go be mature somewhere else and let your lip drag so you can step on it. Someone somewhere will surely cry for you. As for Mrs. Vick, the writer and myself, we’ll have corn.

      • Concerned Citizen

        Also, why do you assume I did not live through this same destruction? You know nothing about me, so your opinion concerning how I should be “enlightened” is invalid.

        • guest

          Lighten up Geraldo. If you have teeth like Mrs. Vick you should be happy. She is. Pass the corn.

          • Concerned Citizen

            I actually ate corn last night after I read this article. It was wonderful.

          • guest

            still mad?

          • Concerned Citizen

            Geraldo. LOL. Ugh, showing your age. Thanks for the laugh (again). ;)

          • guest

            mad?

        • guest

          Your hypocrisy is in your words.

  • PeaceAndSunshine

    Guest who is responding to Concerned Citizen, you sound mad. Why don’t you lighten up? The Concerned Citizen has, in my opinion, raised some valid journalistic points.

    • guest

      Once again, you are wrong. I am actually poking fun at you and your hypocrisy. Yet again, you don’t get it. Lighten up.

      • PeaceAndSunshine

        I don’t think there’s anything funny with how, instead of focusing on the tornado and Vick’s miraculous survival, all I’m simply stuck with is her cigarette. The author needed to hone into the survival aspect more so than the darn ciggie. But, that is just me. Maybe I expect too much from a responsible, award-wining, published author who’s also a journalist given the huge task of responsibly reporting about a tragedy. Color me dumb.

        • guest

          Looks like you are the one who is mad. Am I right?

          • PeaceAndSunshine

            No, I’m not mad. But, since you champion the words written by the author so staunchly, maybe you could deliver a message to him for me (because by your words, it seems you’re in the know about the author’s intent): please tell him that he should stick to the monster storytelling, as his sole published work evidences, where he can boldly use sensationalism to garner greater emotions from the reader – it’s more apropos in the fiction he’s written. However, in real life, and by responsible journalists, use of sensationalism simply lets intelligent readers, like myself and Concerned Citizen, narrow in on one’s writing weaknesses and that one is grasping at straws, hoping the reader connects with one’s words because the words written are not strong enough without a sensationalist spin. I bid you adieu, Mister or Miss Guest :).

          • guest

            I’m sure the writer is sorry he offended you. I’m not. It shows your narrow minded ability to understand the spirit of the article. This article actually shows the broad scope of his ability. The article was a breath of fresh air. Remember he was writing to Mrs. Vick’s own quotes. She was a hoot and took this tornado with stoicism and laughed at it because it wasn’t going to whip her. The writer captured that as all award winning writer’s would do. Remember YOU said you were no writer. ICC and Ole Miss do offer classes. Sign up for one ………and enjoy the corn.

          • PeaceAndSunshine

            Dear Guest:

            First, you’ve mixed myself and Concerned Citizen up. We are, in fact, two different people though we share the same opinion as it relates to the article in question.

            Second, I never shared whether I write or not, but since you’ve mixed (again) myself up with Concerned Citizen, I’ll enlighten you. I am a writer. These days, it’s easy to do, and the mere fact that I’ve commented to your asinine position, makes me one.

            Oh, by the way, I don’t like corn.

          • guest

            You remind me of that stray dog that occasionally winds up the front porch of us country people’s homes. We kick it a few times and say “youbetgetouthea”. Then if the ole dog has enough resolve we decide if it can rabbit hunt and stay away from pole cats we might keep it. Do you like greens?

          • PeaceAndSunshine

            Now, you’re being expressively insulting, so I’ll for real check out of this thread. You sound like a relative of the author’s. Or, maybe you’re him. I don’t know and I don’t care. Enjoy your sensationalism. Seems you know excellent writing.

          • guest

            Words are in the eye of the beholder. You have shown that. And so have I. I do know good writing and the spirit of how it is written. Thanks for your thoughts. Come back now “YOU HEAR”.

          • guest

            I read Sybil. Fascinating. You’re not Shirley Ardell Mason are you?

  • Name LastName

    Wait? So, only people in the South wear dentures and smoke cigarettes? And, all people that smoke and wear dentures are idiots too? Hmmm…I didn’t realize that. *sarcasm*

    Looks like someone else has issue with stereotypes other than the author of the article.

    Thanks for the insight.

  • Zachary Bates

    As a
    former resident of Itawamba County, this is just embarrassing. Frankly, the journalism
    is just unprofessional and right out of a Jeff Foxworthy stand-up bit.