JACKSON, Miss. — Days after a tornado obliterated their home and delayed their wedding, a Mississippi bride and groom say they feel blessed by the kindness of strangers, including the gift of a wedding dress from a jilted bride in Kentucky.
"I think it's great, because I never really expected this much help," Morgan Hayden said Wednesday from a hotel in her hometown of Yazoo City.
Hayden, 27, and her 31-year-old fiance, Josiah Moton, huddled in their bathroom with three relatives Saturday when a tornado blew apart the house the couple had helped build a few months ago in a wooded area just outside town. The storm left them homeless – but uninjured.
The National Weather Service said the tornado was 1.75 miles wide – a record for Mississippi. It killed 10 people, injured at least 49 and damaged about 700 homes as it plowed nearly 150 miles through state.
Left with few belongings beyond the clothes they were wearing, Hayden and Moton delayed their plans to go to Little Rock, Ark., on Monday for a small, informal wedding. Hayden said she had not purchased a wedding dress but was planning to wear something from her closet.
Katie Smith, 20, who lives near Louisville, Ky., said she read about the couple in an Associated Press article and decided to find Hayden and offer her the dress.
Smith said she had planned to marry this summer, but her fiance from England broke their engagement last month.
"Honestly, it still hurts like hell," Smith told the AP Wednesday. "But life goes on."
Smith said she has been trying to give away the wedding items she'd already purchased, including the dress she bought on sale for $350. She described the gown as "the perfect combination of innocent and slightly seductive," with plenty of ribbons and lace.
Hayden accepted the offer, and Smith said she mailed the dress Tuesday.
"I know every girl wants to look pretty on her wedding day," Smith said.
An executive at a resort in the Bahamas also said Wednesday that he had read the AP article and the resort offered the couple a honeymoon when they're ready for it. Rick English, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Baha Mar Ltd., said the resort will provide two round-trip air tickets and five nights with an ocean-view room "as kind of a way to make some new memories and help them get past what happened."
Moton said he and Hayden accepted the honeymoon offer Wednesday.
"I think it was wonderful. I really do," Moton said.
Hundreds of tornado survivors in Mississippi are getting help from strangers. Charities are providing meals and bottled water. Church groups, civic groups and random people from in state and out of state are in the storm-damaged areas to cut fallen trees and clear debris.
Hayden works for a company that collects child-support payments under a contract for the state, and Moton was laid off from his job as a house painter in December. They have four children.
Hayden said a homeowners' insurance policy is paying hotel expenses for a week, and she and Moton hope to move into an apartment. She said they'll reschedule the wedding when life becomes somewhat normal again, and the ceremony will probably be in Yazoo City.