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Smithville One Month After the Storm

By Sandra Knispel | Published 27 May 2011 04:46pm | comments
Cleanup is underway in Smithville, one month after a deadly tornado killed 14 in the small northeast Mississippi town.

Today, exactly a month ago an EF-5 tornado leveled most of Smithville in northeast Mississippi. As MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, the recovery in the small town is slow – but a few businesses have already reopened.

Smithville is dotted with backhoes and other heavy machinery. Here, the Army Corps of Engineers is busy cleaning up the large debris left behind when the tornado ripped through this small town of about 1,000 residents, killing 14. Now, exactly a month later to the day, progress is visible.

“A lot of the debris has already been cleaned up. They’re working on the smaller stuff now. Most damaged vehicles have already been taken out. Home places that were leveled are starting to be cleaned up at this time," said Spencer Woods, Monroe County deputy sheriff.

“Everybody is in [the] survival mode. They’re trying to fight and trying to get their property construction started and the cleanup done. Everybody is in fairly high spirits at this time, just trying to get Smithville back to the way it was,” Woods added.

Earlier this week, the town’s only bank reopened.

“We’re in a modular unit, 14 by 70 feet. It is equipped for a bank. We have three tellers and one drive-through teller, so we’re back operational." Reporter: "And when you turn around and look out of the window would you describe what you’re looking at? Phyllis Morgan, Renasant branch manager added: “Total destruction. Nothing but rubble. One building is left, Smithville Telephone has not been affected. One building with the roof off, and the rest is just rubble.”

All that remains of the original Renasant building is the vault. That’s the one that saved the lives of three employees and one customer, says branch manager Phyllis Morgan.

“The sirens went off and we had everything locked up and put in the vault and then we locked the front door and we all took shelter in there. As son as we took shelter the power went off and we could hear the door itself. Because we cannot secure it and then we heard that it started to bump and it opened about an inch before it was all over with. And debris and glass was coming in on us. But then it just stopped and when it did we could see the sky and everything through the small opening, and we knew everything was gone," Morgan recalled.

Further down the main street, is another business up and running, albeit not from its original building either.

“ I would describe this just as a temporary storage shed that we’re kind of using as an impromptu office," said Jon Carithers, the general manager of Nole Motors, a used-car dealership, which lost its building and 21 cars. Now, sales are back to normal.

“We’ve done 10 to 15 cars this month. We’ve been here now for about 2 ½ weeks and we’re pretty much on schedule with what we were typically. A lot of people need cars now, of course.”

The Army Corps of Engineers should be done with the large debris removal in the next 18 days, sasys Smithville mayor Gregg Kennedy. At that point, he hopes the volunteers will come back to help with the remaining cleanup.

“That’s when the actual hands-on cleaning is going to start. The big stuff can be handled by machinery but the little stuff is wheel barrow and rake.”

According to Kennedy, roughly 8,700 volunteers have been to Smithville so far. Clearly something that has helped the survivers’ morale.

“Everybody is still upbeat, everybody wants to see it come back and come back better. We’re gonna lose some residents, we know. There’s quite a few that’s not going to build back,” Kennedy said.

Reporter: So what do you think Smithville is going to look like in three-years’ time? “In three years’ time I can visualize more businesses, I can visualize newer homes replacing the older homes…[new homes] that are energy efficient, because just this last week we had our first set of building codes ever adopted in the town of Smithville. I can envision a nicer, cleaner town,” Kennedy explained.

Already 2011 has been the deadliest year for tornadoes in more than half a century with more than 450 deaths and billions of dollars of damage in the past month alone. Here in Smithville 14 out of its 16 businesses were destroyed by the storm. No question, the road ahead is a long and trying one. Already, however, the town has something it’s never had before: its own licensed daycare.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Smithville.

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Cleanup is underway in Smithville, one month after a deadly tornado killed 14 in the small northeast Mississippi town.


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