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Tornado-torn Smithville is Getting Ready for Big Sweep

By Sandra Knispel | Published 09 May 2011 10:57am | comments
Emergency responders, law enforcement and officials, including Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy (left), take a quick break from cleanup at an ice-cream party organized by the Red Cross in Smithville on Friday.

This week, the Army Corps of Engineers will start the big cleanup in Smithville. The tiny town in Monroe County in northeast Mississippi was destroyed by a tornado on April 27th that claimed 14 lives there. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has more from Smithville.

“This was the front door... and walking along here... this was one of the bedrooms where my son.. this was his bedroom. There’s nothing left but carpet. [Reporter: Where are the beds, where’s the furniture?] "It was all destroyed."

All that remains of 40-year-old Amy Franks’ house is a concrete slab with a few inside walls. Stepping carefully over wood splinters and broken glass on the remnants of beige wall-to-wall carpeting, Franks is walking through the home she inherited barely four months ago when her grandfather died in December. Now, most is gone.

[Reporter: “Look there’s an iron on the ground, might that still be salveagable? Still has its cord on it…".] "Yeah, could be. Maybe. “We were able to salvage the couch, the love seat, and the rocker,' Franks said. "Three or four outfits, five to ten pictures. Pictures of when I graduated, pictures of my mom when she graduated, a picture of my aunt when she graduated.

The storm killed 14 and reduced to rubble Smithville’s businesses, 126 houses, two major churches and its schools. Franks’ fiancé was inside the modest house when the storm struck.

“Let me show you here, just be really careful. This was the bedroom that my fiancé was in. The tornado when it hit threw him out of the house and threw him back in," Franks explained. "He landed in the bedroom. He’s got back injuries and he’s just scratched up real bad and bruised and cut up and everything like that.”

The 40-year-old is unemployed. With the financial help of friends and family she and her fiance’ have been renting furniture and accommodation in Fulton.

[Reporter: “Where do you go from here?] “My plans are, when everything gets cleared off, and I pray to the Lord that I’m making the right decision, my grandfather would want me to build back here," Franks said.

Meanwhile, the town is getting ready for the major cleanup that is to start this week when the Army Corps of Engineers moves in. Monroe County Sheriff Andy Hood says residents just have to pick up what they want saved and then sign a permission slip.

"You know you can just leave everything else there and not waste your time on getting debris up because the Corps is going to come in and do what they call a 'clean sweep', cleaning everything up but the slab. If you have a concrete slab that’s the only thing that will be still there,” Hood said.

Already, the town’s Board of Aldermen and the Mayor have been discussing new city ordinances.

“Number one thing: there won’t be any more trailer parks in the town of Smithville. I’m telling you right now they’re gone," Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy said. "A time for change is now. Since we've had this type of destruction it's time for us to step up [to] the plate and let's make some changes that we've been wanting to make prior to the storm. And now the opportunity is here because basically two-thirds of our town is wiped clean."

Kennedy and his aldermen are planing major changes when it comes to building codes and emergency preparedness.

“Central emergency shelter – that’s already been discussed. Storm shelters all over the town have been discussed," Kennedy said. "We’re already upgrading our siren system. We’re talking about expansions in our city. We’re already looking at our road structure.”

For Amy Franks, now is about preserving relished childhood memories. She’s planning on re-using a concrete slab that used to be in front of her grandfather’s fireplace, adorned with colored marbles. She remembers when he made the holes.

“I was probably 12 or 13. And me and my grandfather put the marbles in these holes. And he’d put a marble and I’d put a marble, he’d put a marble, I’d put a marble. And the day the tornado hit this was still in here. [Reporter: Some marbles are missing but most are still there.] And when I get built back here I’m going to have this engraved in my concrete," Franks said.

Sometimes it’s the small things that mean the most, that help us cope. Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Smithville.


Emergency responders, law enforcement and officials, including Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy (left), take a quick break from cleanup at an ice-cream party organized by the Red Cross in Smithville on Friday.



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