SMITHVILLE – All around Mississippi this weekend people are opening their wallets and putting on work gloves to help victims of last week’s storms.
One of the hardest hit areas, Smithville, continued to see relief efforts on a local and national level Saturday. It also felt the impact of the announcement of one more death due to Wednesday’s F5 tornado.
The death toll in Monroe County increased to 15 after a body was recovered in Smithville by search and recovery teams, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. One person remained missing Saturday in the town of 900. Mississippi’s death toll is now at 35.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said at least 162 people were injured in several counties across Mississippi. That’s down one from a previous MEMA count.
President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for the state Friday night, and Gov. Haley Barbour said the declaration should speed up the availability of money and other resources for recovery.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other Cabinet members are scheduled to travel to Alabama and Mississippi today to see areas hit by the outbreak of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms that killed more than 340 people in seven states.
Barbour said the greatest thing about the American and Mississippi spirit is the willingness to help those in need. Thousands of people have been in and out of Smithville over the past five days doing everything from helping search for survivors to cooking food and delivering water.
Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy said seeing all the people and agencies who’ve come to help the people in his town has been an overwhelming experience for him.
“I can’t thank enough all the people who have come and have called, extending a helping hand to us in Smithville,” said Kennedy. “People have come from far places just to help us and that means a lot to people when they’ve lost it all.”
After the Robertses heard that their neighboring town had been hit by a catastrophic tornado, they loaded up all the supplies they could carry and headed to Smithville to see what they could do to help.
Brian Roberts and his wife Jennifer, who own Pitstop BBQ and Catering in Fulton, have been right in the middle of the chaos serving hot food to rescue personnel and Smithville residents. Brian’s parents, Harold and Joyce Roberts, and several employees have been cooking and serving food.
“We shut the restaurant down and headed right down here,” said Brian. “We knew people would need food and would not have a way to get it, so we came. We had no idea how long we’d have to be here or where we’d sleep but none of that mattered.”
Brian said the restaurant has been closed since the storm so they could be in Smithville. He said he did not know when he would reopen and as long as he was needed in Smithville, he’d be there to feed the hungry.
Susan Gilbert with Tupelo’s Salvation Army said people have been great in donating a lot of material, but the donations of time and manpower have been the biggest help so far.
Jason McNeal of Aberdeen donated his time and four-wheelers, which have been vital tools to transport goods and personnel through the destruction.
“I don’t have blood relatives here but I consider us all family in Mississippi,” said McNeal. “I don’t have a lot of money but I have these two four-wheelers and a heart to want to help.”
Cellphone carriers like Verizon, CelluarSouth and AT&T were in Smithville with charging stations so people could recharge their mobile phones. With all of the power to the town still out, many said the charging stations came in handy.
Floyd Weathers said Mississippi always takes care of its own.
“We are a tight community in Mississippi,” said the Columbus resident. “I went down south to help with Katrina so when I heard about this I didn’t even hesitate. In this state we pull together to help one another pull through.”
Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal