If anybody had to wonder why Baptist leaders across York County have created a tornado rebuilding fund to help several families who lost everything in the November storm – look no further than where the Hudspeth family lived.
Nothing is left.
Or where Ella Baccus lived down Williamson Road, just south of the Hudspeths. Nothing is left there, either. The Baccus home was the first one destroyed in the storm as the twister moved north.
Ella Baccus’ son was found underneath the rubble – hurt, but alive.
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The roof of the Hudspeth home south of Rock Hill was found a mile away.
The tornado killed three people, including the Hudspeths next-door neighbor. Almost 20 houses were damaged or destroyed.
The rest of the Hudspeth house, what wasn’t blown away, was tossed in the storm. Casey Hudspeth, 37, and his son, Ethan, 14, were in that house when the storm hit.
Casey had watched the weather and told his wife, coming home from Rock Hill with their daughter, to stay away.
“I heard it ... and I knew this was no regular storm,” Casey Hudspeth said. “So I ran around the back corner and saw it, then grabbed Ethan and put him underneath me in the living room.“There wasn’t time to be scared.”
Casey, a heating and air technician, a tough guy by any measure, put his son, a football player almost as big as his father at age 14, in a headlock so Ethan could not move.
The tornado blew out the south wall of the house – right were Ethan had been playing with a football in his room – and picked the whole wreck of a building up.
“Our house got flipped over with us in it,” said Casey Hudspeth.
It flipped over at least three times and landed upside down about 100 feet away. Casey Hudspeth was hit in the head during the chaos and knocked out.
He never let go of his son, though.
Casey finally came to, with his son clutched to his chest, underneath a chimney in a blow only softened by a recliner and a treadmill between the falling bricks and their bodies.
Ethan, being a teenager, had his cellphone gripped in his hand the whole time, and he called his mother after the tornado and she answered to his yells about how they were alive, but terrified.
“I was never so scared and relieved all at the same time,” Tracey Hudspeth said. “They were crushed underneath it, but I could hear Ethan screaming that he was all right and his daddy had him so tight that he couldn’t let go.
“My husband, my hero, saved our son. He saved my baby.”
Ethan, a teenager and a football player, sputtered out: “I’m no baby.”
But in a crisis, a son is always his momma’s baby, and the father did what fathers do – save the kid first.
Casey Hudspeth cleared his head and bulled out from the rubble with his son in tow, then kicked out a window – the floor above them.
“It was a mess,” said Ethan, in an understatement.
Finally, Casey talked to Tracey, and Casey did what fathers and husbands do – he told his wife not to come immediately.
“He said wait 10 minutes to keep from running into the tornado,” Tracey said. “That was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”
The storm hit just before sundown on Nov. 16, so by the time Casey’s father had rushed from next door, and other people arrived, the ruined house was in darkness.
Only the next day could the family begin to try to figure out a life when all they had was gone.
That’s where the help comes in.
This family, without anything, was helped by neighbors, employers, friends – even strangers. Insurance covered much of the loss, but not everything, and through days and weeks, countless people helped them with clothes, furniture, a place to live, dishes to eat from, towels to bathe with, more.
Volunteers cleared the debris and cooked and washed and brought love. Somebody even found Boppy – the security blanket belonging to 7-year-old Emma Hudspeth.
“People – what can I say? – incredible,” said Casey Hudspeth.
Tracey said it is impossible to thank all people who helped, as there is no way to thank hundreds, including some who remain strangers.
“I love them all,” Tracey said.
Insurance assistance was quick, the Hudspeths said, but when all is lost, there is no way to replace everything.
So the York Baptist Association – which had sent volunteers for cleanup and recovery and assistance from the first night – started a fund at Family Trust Federal Credit Union to “fill the gap” for families such as the Hudspeths, Ella Baccus and others, said Mike O’Dell, the group’s missions director.
With a goal of $70,000 to help families, about $22,000 has been donated so far. Money will be used not just to replace items, but help with the gap between insurance payouts and balances on owed mortgages several people had.
“Helping people through this is something that any person can do,” O’Dell said. “This is what a community is at its core – helping neighbors through the toughest times.”
After the storm, so many people helped others – especially Oakdale Baptist Church and its members, who set up a staging area for donations and sent out waves of volunteers. Other volunteers just showed up at destroyed homes and started helping.
That help arrived to the northernmost damage on Vernsdale Road, south to S.C. 324, and down Williamson Road to where the Hudspeths live.
And even to the first house hit by that terrible tornado, where Ella Baccus lived with her son, Courtney McCullough. Baccus was at work that day and McCullough, the only one home, ended up under the destroyed house, his mother said.
Courtney’s arm needed surgery, Baccus said, and he is “still too traumatized to talk about it.”
Baccus said her son was found by a neighbor whose name she still does not know, who was in a tree stand, hunting, when the storm approached.
“That man is an angel,” Baccus said. “He followed the storm to my son. He found him.”
So many people over days and weeks helped her clean up and brought supplies, she said.
“All of them are wonderful, and I thank them all,” she said.
A civic group from Ogden Road just north of where the storm hit, the men and women of Sterling Lodge 344 and Living Beauty Temple, collected donations and presented $500 to Baccus on Friday.
William “Bump” Roddey, a lodge member and York County councilman, had heard about Baccus’ situation and urged the lodge to help. The entire membership unanimously agreed.
“We do many charitable things,” said Albert Crawford, exalted ruler of the Sterling Lodge. “Our goal here was to help someone who needed help.”
The men and women of the lodge and temple talked of how service to people, to community, is the key to rebuilding from this storm.
“Service is what we are all about,” said Cheryl Barber, vice daughter ruler of the temple.
Baccus thanked the lodge members Friday, and all the people who have been so generous to her – just as the Hudspeth family did
“I thank all who have helped my family, all families hurt by this storm, in their time of need,” Baccus said. “God is working miracles.”
Last week, contractors poured concrete footings for the Hudspeths’ new home – on the same spot as the one that was destroyed.
The family, somehow, laughs now, barely two months after a night that took all they had.
That’s because, Tracey Hudspeth said, “we have each other.”
VIDEO: Hudspeth family rebuilds
VIDEO: Donation to Baccus
Want to help?
The York Baptist Association's Tornado Rebuild Fund has been established at Family Trust Family Credit Union to aid the victims of the Nov. 16 tornado. All proceeds go to help the families affected by the storm. Donations can be made at any Family Trust branch.