WEATHER UPDATES: NEMS begins cleanup from violent storms

By NEMS Daily Journal










9:03 p.m. – From The Associated Press …

SMITHVILLE — There isn’t much left of Smithville Baptist Church, a red brick building with about 350 parishioners in this northeastern Mississippi town where at least 14 people were killed.

Entire sections of the building are flattened. The second story is gone. A cadaver dog looked for bodies in the rubble. At least the choir robes were untouched and unsullied.

“They’re perfectly white,” Pastor Wes White called out Thursday when he discovered the robes as he sifted through the wreckage.

White said a group of residents from a nearby mobile home park knocked on the church door just before the storm hit, asking for shelter. They went to sturdy section of the church where they hung onto one another and anything they could grab “like a mass of humanity” as the building disintegrated.

The red jeep that some mobile home residents drove to the church was left on its side inside the church office.

“You can’t just bring in some generators and fix something like this. You can’t just put up a tarp. There’s nothing left. We are going to have families displaced for a long time,” he said.

“How do reconcile something like this? It’s not possible. But there are truths in life. There’s a God whose ways are higher than our ways. And if you don’t have faith, you don’t have anything.”

The church plans to have a service in a tent Sunday, a week after Easter. The sermon: “resurrection in life.”

9:01 p.m.

MEMA receives additional reports of storm
related deaths, injuries and damage

PEARL – The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has now received confirmation of 33 storm related deaths and more than 150 injuries from severe weather that moved through the state Tuesday morning through last
night.

There are also initial reports from 51 counties across the state and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians of more than 320 homes and 25 businesses damaged. Damage assessments are still ongoing.

While 33 deaths have been confirmed, local officials have reported that the number may rise.

Deaths reported by county:
Chickasaw: three deaths, 16 injuries.

Choctaw: one death.

Clarke: four deaths, 30 injuries.

Jasper: two deaths.

Kemper: three deaths.

Lafayette: one death.

Marshall: one death.

Monroe: fourteen deaths, 40 injuries.

Pike: one death.

Smith: one death.

Webster: one death.

Yazoo: one death.

MEMA will continue to provide additional reports as information becomes available.

4:56 p.m. – Four of Smithville’s churches were destroyed: Smithville Baptist Church, Smithville United Methodist Church; Victory Baptist Church and Smithville Free Will Baptist Church.

The Salvation Army said it is working in nine locations in Mississippi and Alabama.

Mark Jones of the Salvation Army said, “This is the largest response for the Salvation Army in Mississippi and Alabama since Hurricanee Gustav in 2008.”

People who would like to make a donation can text the word “give” to 80888.

4:12 p.m. – Amory School District will resume classes on Friday.

3:41 p.m. From Bobby Harrison of the Daily Journal in the Jackson bureau …

Governor activates National Guard in Smithville
Asking for federal help

JACKSON – While Wednesday’s storms badly damaged numerous areas of the state, especially in Northeast Mississippi, the only area where the state National Guard has been deployed is hard-hit Smithville in Monroe County.

Gov. Haley Barbour said during a Thursday morning news conference, where he was joined by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, that he had deployed the National Guard to the Smithville area and did not plan to activate them anywhere else.

He said throughout the state, local emergency workers, along with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, have responded admirably to the crisis – in some instances before the storms system had left the area. According to MEMA, the storm caused 32 deaths, including 13 in Monroe County, and 120 injuries over roughly a two-day period.

Mississippi Adjutant Gen. William Feeman Jr. said about 120 National Guard soldiers of the Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, based in Monroe County, had been deployed in Smithville to assist the Sheriff’s Department, primarily by manning 25 traffic locations in the area.

Plus, a team from Jackson was helping Monroe County officials with communication issues and a Mississippi Air National Guard aircraft was providing video of damage in both Mississippi and Alabama.

Read more in Friday’s NEMS Daily Journal.

3:20 p.m.The American Red Cross has opened shelters at following locations …

Clay County: Bryan Union Hall, 400 Cow Palace Road, West Point.

Monroe: First Baptist Church, 303 1st Ave., Amory.

3:15 p.m.More updates for 2 p.m. Smithville press conference from Daily Journal reporter Chris Kieffer …

– The National Weather Service says the storm was a very strong F4 tornado (207-260 mph winds), one-half mile wide. It destroyed 150 homes and 12 of the town’s 14 businesses.

– School resumes Monday; K-6 students will go to Hatley and 7-12 student to the Advanced Learning Center in Becker.

– Curfew is in effect, 6:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.

– About five people unaccounted for.

– Those who want to donate supplies should drop them off at the old National Guard Armory in Amory.

2:47 p.m.From Holbroook Mohr of The Associated Press ….

SMITHVILLE — Survivors picked through rubble Thursday in Smithville, a northeastern Mississippi town that was mostly flattened by violent storms that roared through the South a day earlier.

“You can’t just bring in some generators and fix something like this. You can’t just put up a tarp. There’s nothing left,” Pastor Wes White said as he sifted through what was left of Smithville Baptist Church.

“We are going to have families displaced for a long time,” he said.

Mississippi’s death toll is at least 33 from this week’s violent storms. Authorities say 32 people were killed Wednesday and one was killed Tuesday.

There were at least 14 deaths from Smithville alone. The town of 900, in Monroe County, was the hardest hit Mississippi community.

The storms also left wide swaths of destruction in Kemper and Clarke counties in east central Mississippi, near the Alabama line.

Thousands of structures are damaged across the state. Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday he’s asking President Barack Obama for a federal disaster declaration all of Mississippi.

Barbour said state and local emergency agencies continue assessing damage in many counties, and National Guard troops are on duty in Smithville.

2:38 p.m. – Chris Wilson from Monroe Journal just let us know about several relief and drop-off areas that have been set up in Monroe County. Good to see folks pulling together.

Click link for more information.

Journal’s Charlie Langford tells us The Community Hospice will be at 25 and 6 in Amory until 4 p.m. offering free food to storm victims and then will be moving to Smithville and will be in Smithville all day Friday.

2:06 p.m.Press conference with area officials going on now in Smithville here are some highlights …

– 13 confirmed dead in Smithville.

– Smithville residents will be welcomed back to check property at 3 p.m. today Town will have a 6:30 p.m. curfew. Residents will need a form of identification with them.

– Classified as a strong F4 tornado in Smithville and may be upgraded to F5.

– Emotional speech by Mayor Gregg Kennedy at press conference. “We lost some great people,” he said. Kennedy said two-thirds of the town of Smithville is gone.

– About 150 homes and 14 businesses destroyed in Smithville.

More soon.

1:50 p.m. – Power outages are now down to 100 customers in Monroe County, 2,000 in Lafayette County and 3,000 for the North Trace Electric Power Association, which serves Chickasaw County, Public Service Commissionerr Brandon Presley told the Daily Journal’s Chris Kieffer. Presley also asked that the public pay no attention to rumors that TVA plans to cut off electricity to areas affected by the storm, that there’s no truth to them.

1:23 p.m. – Daily Journal reporter Lena Mitchell with these updates …

Alcorn County

One Alcorn County reported minor injuries with a bumped head and hurt wrist that were treated at her home in the Biggersville-Rienzi area, said Alcorn County EMA Director Ricky Gibens.
Power outages struck residents around the Rienzi community twice on Wednesday, but power had been fully restored as of Thursday morning.
More than 20 properties were reported damaged, probably six of them no longer habitable, he said. Reports also included two trailers with roofs torn off, two barns completely destroyed and a church with roof damage and its steeple toppled.
Several roads that were flooded remain closed because of heavy damage, including ones in the Kendrick community and off Smithbridge Road, Gibens said.
Residents should check with their county supervisors for updates on road safety.

Prentiss County

EMA Director Ralph Lauderdale of Prentiss County said a number of homes in the Jumpertown, Pisgah, Marietta, New Site, Burton and Bay Springs communities suffered damage, several with heavy damage.
About 68 trees that blocked roadways had been removed by late Thursday morning, and trees removed in 35 areas where they fell across power lines.

Tippah County

Reports in Tippah County included several homes with roof damage and a temporary loss of power to about 100 customers, said EMA Director Tom Lindsey.

1:21 p.m. – It certainly was a powerful storm that hit Smithville Wednesday. Daily Journal photographers Deste Lee and C. Todd Sherman heard from a Smithville resident that pieces of the Smithville football scoreboard were found in Tremont.

12:33 p.m. – Around Tishomingo County hundreds of trees were down, many across power lines that caused power outages, Bill Strickland, director of the county emergency management agency told NEMS Daily Journal reporter Lena Mitchell.

At midday Thursday, he said power to about 150 residents in the Belmont area was still out, and might not be restored before noon Saturday.

Two businesses – Falcon Industries and Red Bud Supply in Belmont – were completely destroyed, and the town’s maintenance yard suffered severe damage. Strickland said.

There also were about 30 homes that suffered major damage, and the high school baseball field was destroyed with trees down all across it.

12:18 p.m.Smithville Post Office Destroyed by a Tornado …

JACKSON – On Wednesday, April 27, at 5:40 PM CDT, a tornado came through the area under an extreme weather warning and completely destroyed the Smithville, MS Post Office.

No employees or customers were injured in this extreme weather. The tornado tore all but one wall down with its destruction.

The Smithville Post Office 38870 was located at 63437 Highway 25 North and will not be operational in the near future.

The United States Postal Inspection Service quickly arrived on site to secure the immediate area of the post office and remove all of the mail, accountable items and collection mail that could be recovered.

Employees are working out of the Amory Post Office which is located at 215 First Avenue,
North, Amory, MS 38821.

Customers from the Smithville Post Office area may contact the Amory Post Office at 662-256-5091 to ask if they have mail there for pick-up.

Further information will be provided on first-of-the-month delivery of checks as it is available.

12:12 p.m. Here is more information on how you can help …

Fourteen counties in Red Cross’ service area here in northeast Mississippi were affected by tornadoes and their resources are being
stretched to the max.

The hardest hit counties are Monroe, Webster and Tishomingo.

Both the Salvation Army and the Red Cross have emergency response teams in Smithville providing meals and the Red Cross has tents set up to provide first aid.

Both have requested donations of water which can be delivered to the Salvation Army at 527 Carnation Street, Tupelo and to the Red Cross at 4127 Westside Dr., Tupelo. The Salvation Army also requests donations of Wal-mart gift cards to give victims, and powdered drink packets to flavor bottled water.

Both organizations need cash donations. Please no donations of clothing at this time.

Noon: Itawamba County is working to help its neighbors in Smithville after violent storms went through Wednesday.

Michaela Gibson Morris tells us where and how you can help …

Click here for more at Itawamba360.com.

11:44 a.m. Smithville High School softball coach Jeremy Duke and baseball coach Jordan Summerford reported Thursday morning that all of their players were accounted for.

Click here for more on this from Gene Phelps of the NEMS Daily Journal.

11:40 a.m. – From Daily Journal’s Bobby Harrison in Jackson …

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour said today he is asking for immediate emergency declaration for state because of the recent storms.
Barbour made the comments in press conference that also was attended by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who said he though Presidentt Obama would quickly agree.
Maj. Gen. William Freeman Jr., adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, said 120 Guardsmen have been deployed in Smithville, they only place in state they’ve been called.
He said they were part of the Monroe County-based 98th Armored Recognizance Squadron.
Their main role is manning 25 traffic control points.
Wicker, who was expected to be in Smithville this afternoon, said students will be sent to other schools for the rest of the year. Thee Smithville school was destroyed in the storm.

MEMA officials say there have been more than 120 injuries. Damage was reported in 50 counties across the state and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians of more than 230 homes and 20 businesses damaged.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he hopes for speedy action on the disaster declaration request.

11:07 a.m. – Belmont in Tishomingo County suffered damage from Wednesday’s storm.

According to the National Weather Service – Large trees were down and there was a structure damage at second street. The Old Highway 25 in Belmont was completely blocked and a tree trapped an individual in vehicle. there was possible tornado damage to a house in southern Tishomingo County.

NEMS Daily Journal reporter Lena Mitchell will have more from Belmont on the recovery effort later.

10:53 a.m. – Daily Journal’s Danza Johnson reports Mississippi Emergency Management Agency estimates damage in Smithville to be in several million dollar range. Press conference will be at 2 p.m.

10:45 a.m. – Kathy Ositis of the Salvation Army tells Daily Journal’s Michaela Gibson Morris that the canteen is currently onsite in Smithville providing food and water. They are shuttling food and water to the site as needed.

Salvation Army needs non-perishable bottled drinks and packets of powdered drink mix that can be used in water.

They are also requesting cash and gift cards.

Because the Salvation Army is a tax-free entity they can make donations go farther.

Donations can be dropped at Salvation Army offices on Carnation; donations can be made at the office, (800) SAL ARMY or at disaster.salvationarmyusa.org

Also Michaela says Dwayne Blaylock, Gilmore Memorial Hospital administrator tells her Gilmore Memorial Hospital in Amory treated more than 40 people injured by the tornadoes. Most were seriously injured; very few were treated and released.

The hospital had only limited emergency power to run lights, life support systems and limited x-rays until 1:30 a.m. Thursday when power and phone lines were restored.

Hospital was preparing to run Amory water system if the power had been out for more than 12 hours.

Hospital staff members who lost their homes and, in one case, their mother in the tornado, stayed on duty to help take care of the injured and other patients.

Nurses from around the area came to volunteer their assistance.

Hospital has a clinic operating in Smithville on Thursday morning. The hospital has extra supplies of tetanus vaccine on hand in anticipation of clean up injuries.

10:35 a.m. – Brandon Speck of the Monroe Journal tells us that the Mississippi Highway Patrol is asking that everyone avoid the Smithville area as search and rescue operations are still going on today after Wednesday’s tornado ripped through the area.

MHP spokesman Brian Mobley said until search and rescue operations are complete, the area is under Homeland Security lockdown.

If anyone has missing persons, they should go to the Monroe County Government Complex at 256-9928 for information.

Later today, coroners will release names of those killed in the storm.

9:48 a.m. – Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley tells NEMS Daily Journal reporter Chris Kieffer that power has been restored to Amory and Aberdeen, but that 2,000 customers are still without electricity in Monroe County. He said that as of Wednesday night, 8,600 customers in Lafayette County were without power. He said Atmos shut off gas service to Smithville for safety reasons.

He added that that power has been restored to TVA’s distributors, but that doesn’t mean it has been passed on to consumers yet. TVA said more than 70 power lines were down in TVA’s southern portion, which includes Northeast Mississippi, northwest Alabama and southern Tennessee.

He said South Mississippi Electric, Mississippi Power and Entergy have been able to feed some power to the TVA area.

9 a.m. – Andy Harmon, Chickasaw County coroner, said Thursday morning that three people were confirmed dead from Wednesday’s tornadoes, according to Chickasaw Journal’s Floyd Ingram. Harmon did not identify the victims but did say that two females and one male died. The deaths occurred in Woodland, East Houston and Buena Vista.

Also this from Daily Journal business editor Dennis Seid …

Furniture industry leader Lynn Davis among victims killed in tornadoes that swept through Mississippi.

Click here for more at Biz Buzz blog.

8:30 a.m. – A Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman confirms at least 13 dead in Smithville and more than 40 injured as of this morning, according to Daily Journal reporters Galen Holley and Chris Kieffer. The search for bodies ended at nightfall Wednesday and resumed about 7 a.m. today.

Smithville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Morgan said a Federal Emergency Management Agency presence is exected later this morning in the devastated town.

Highway 25 and other hard hit portions of Smithville have been largely cleared of pedestrians this morning as searches continue. Urban search and rescue teams from Tupelo and Columbus are assisting.

Only search and rescue personnel are allowed in Smithville at this time.