By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
SMITHVILLE – Gathered in what was left of the Piggly Wiggly, dozens of Smithville residents huddled together Tuesday, trying to stay out of a wind-driven rain that exacerbated an already difficult situation.
But there was a good reason they stood under the leaky remains of the store.
Residents who lost their homes in last week’s tornado were eligible to receive $2,000 no-strings-attached checks, courtesy of two anonymous donors who each gave $150,000.
The checks originally were going to be $1,000, but a second donor emerged Monday. The second donation allowed Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which is administering the funds, to double the amount.
Doug Allred was one of 66 Smithville residents who could pick up their checks on Tuesday. Another 84 checks are expected to be distributed today.
The checks can be used for any purpose – food, clothing, bills, whatever the recipient decides.
Allred knew exactly what he was going to do with his check.
“My house was completely destroyed,” Allred said, echoing the horrific experience so many of his neighbors and friends suffered during the EF-5 tornado. “I’m going to put this check away so I can rebuild later. And I’m going to rebuild here.”
So, too, will Robert Baughn Jr., who feared the worst when he saw the tornado head into town last week.
Baughn, who works for the Monroe County Road Department, was loading a backhoe onto a trailer, destined for Wren.
That community had already felt nature’s wrath. But after the tornado smacked Wren, it rumbled toward Smithville, much to Baughn’s horror.
“I was going there to help them in Wren – and then I saw the tornado head toward Smithville,” he said.
His family wasn’t at home, but several of his neighbors were in a storm house that he had built in 2001.
“The tornado hit our house,” he said. “But we’ve got our families. We can replace anything – we’re very blessed. A lot of people weren’t so fortunate.”
Four of his neighbors lost their lives.
The heat and humidity of the past few days gave way to cold and rain Tuesday, adding another layer of difficulty to the recovery efforts.
For most of those gathered at what was left of the Piggly Wiggly, the weather was an unwelcome surprise. They hadn’t come prepared for the chill, but gladly accepted coats, jackets and sweatshirts from the United Way of Monroe County.
And not everyone who came Tuesday got a check.
Among them were siblings Odean Potee, Betty Presley and Albert Young, who all lost their homes, and have to wait until today to get their checks.
“I lost everything but one dish,” Potee said. “I don’t have a car, so I’m going to try to get a car with the money.”
None of them had insurance.
“All I’ve got is one wall left,” Presley said.
Another man cursed loudly when told his check would not be available. But another took the news in stride and volunteered to help other tornado victims.
Three Rivers is working with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to process the applications for the checks. Addresses and identities must be verified, and only heads of households are eligible to receive the checks.
But those remaining applications are expected to be processed tonight and the checks distributed today, starting at 9 a.m.
Judy Herring will be waiting for hers this morning, accepting without complaint the one-day wait for her check.
She, like countless others, is simply grateful to be alive.
Herring was at work in Amory with North Mississippi Medical Center Home Care when she got a frantic call from her daughter last week as the tornado began its deadly trek.
She was in Herring’s house, which was all but destroyed.
“The only thing left standing was the bathroom, and she was in it,” Herring said. “She made it.”
Now living with another daughter in Nettleton, Herring said she’s grateful for kindness of friends and strangers alike. It’s enough to inspire her to look at better days ahead.
And, she added, “I plan to rebuild in Smithville. It’s my home.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.