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Smithville Largely Razed by Wednesday’s Tornado

By Sandra Knispel | Published 29 Apr 2011 04:43pm | comments
At least 14 people died in Smithville after a tornado struck the small town Wednesday afternoon.

The violent tornadoes that ripped through the South left a swath of destruction and death in their wake. MPB’s Sandra Knispel filed this report from the small Mississippi town of Smithville, a community in Monroe County, that was largely reduced to rubble.

“You know the water tank remained standing. But we don’t know if the water is good. We don’t know if it’s structurally sound. There’s lots of things yet to be determined.”

Trees and utility poles snapped, 18-wheelers and RVs tossed like toys in a sandbox, corrugated metal wrapped around tree trunks like baby blankets… and yet towering over the shambles is the light blue water tower, unscathed on spindly legs. Most of Smithville, a small community of roughly 1,000 near the Alabama border, is no longer. Resident Bobby Leach says he and his family crammed into a small closet just seconds before the tornado touched down.

“We was all in the closet, me and my family. My wife and my three kids. I’ve got one that’s five, one is four and one nine. It sounded like a train rolling across the top of the roof. [reporter: "What does your house look like now?"] It’s tore up. It tore all to pieces.”

What sounds like normal rush hour is all but normal. Under the watchful eye of Highway Patrol, Sheriff and National Guard, residents are returning bumper to bumper yesterday afternoon to the restricted area to survey the destruction, trying to salvage mementos of their former lives. So far, 14 people here are confirmed dead. The survivors have until the 6.30 pm curfew to assess the damage and walk about the main street, where the post office and town hall are now just heaps of rubble.

“The chief of police had got out and he has seen the tornado coming from the west and he hollered at me on the radio and says ‘Mayor, I see it coming. Get, get somewhere!’ "

Mayor Gregg Kennedy was inside town hall when the twister struck at 3:47 pm on Wednesday afternoon.

“And I ran and I told the two ladies ‘let’s get under the boardroom board table.’ We did. And the board table was the only thing that was not moved, crushed or nothing and we crawled out.”

Teresa Snow, an office manager for an insurance company, also had a lucky escape.

“I was watching it and when I saw it touch down in Bigbee and it was headed towards us, me and my little puppy got in the hall. And while I was in the hall my daughter called from Horn Lake so she got to hear the windows coming out of my house. And it was really hard. I lost one end of my house. The brick walls are still standing."

Mississippi’s First District Congressman Alan Nunnelee, touring the area yesterday afternoon, was visibly shaken.

“The town of Smithville has been wiped off the face of the earth. There’s just total devastation throughout this community.”

Yet, in the face of such utter destruction, with roughly 150 houses gone, two churches, the schools and 14 businesses destroyed, the spirit of the people here seems unbroken. Somebody pinned the Stars and Stripes to a bent utility pole, flying makeshift at half mast. Again Mayor Kennedy.

"We’re gonna rebuild. It may take us a little while to clean up. [But] we’re gonna rebuild."

Authorities say it’s too early to put a price tag on the destruction. One thing is certain, however, rebuilding will prove a Herculean task. Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Smithville.

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At least 14 people died in Smithville after a tornado struck the small town Wednesday afternoon.


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