SMALL STEPS: Smithville moves ahead with storm recovery

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal




SMITHVILLE – With each passing day, Smithville takes another step toward recovery.
While piles of debris cover the landscape and most of the homes and businesses hit by last month’s devastating tornado remain unoccupied, life is returning to some semblance of normalcy.
On Monday, the town’s only bank reopened. A day care – the town’s first – also opened. And a martial arts school welcomed back its students for the first time since the horrific storm on April 27.
For Mayor Gregg Kennedy, who has steadfastly stood beside his citizens as they try to rebound from the disaster, Monday was a very good day.
“Overall the recovery is going well,” he said. “We’re moving forward, taking small steps at a time. Once we clean up, we’ll take the big steps.”
One of those important steps was the reopening Monday of the town’s lone bank, a Renasant mobile office sitting in what had been its brick-and-mortar branch.
Like so many other buildings in the town of about 900, the bank was all but leveled by last month’s EF-5 tornado. The vault in which three Renasant employees hid when the tornado struck still sits behind the temporary office.
Town leaders and bank officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the first business to reopen in Smithville.
“It’s a financial institution, but it’s also a part of the community,” said Wes White, pastor of Smithville Baptist Church, which also was destroyed.
Said Kennedy, “We’re in a middle of a recovery, and Renasant is doing its part to help us rebuild.”
The three-term mayor also had another piece of good news to share: Dollar General plans to open in the next few weeks. The steel for a new building arrives next week, and company officials will work quickly to get it open, Kennedy said.
Another business, Brown’s Martial Arts, reopened Monday afternoon.
Instructor Joey Brown, a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo, welcomed back some of his 20 students in the building that once was the post office.
Brown, who was the valedictorian at last week’s Smithville High graduation, opened his school two years ago.
After the tornado ripped off the building’s tin roof, he and his father, Jim, did their best to plug the leaks. A front window and the office floor had to be replaced, but everything else was OK.
“We saw all four walls up … now we’ve got everything back in order,” Joey Brown said.
Fourteen of the town’s 16 businesses were destroyed by the tornado. Only Coker’s Han-D-Mart and the Smithville Telephone Co. survived. The town’s largest employer, Townhouse Home Furnishings, has reopened in Mantachie but has promised to return to its roots within a year.