OUR OPINION: Tornado recovery moves past biggest milestones

Chickasaw County and the town of Smithville in Monroe County, both among the hardest-hit communities in what’s described as a “generational” tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011, marked major progress this summer in long-term recovery efforts, benchmarks that may have seemed impossible in the storms’ immediate aftermath.

That April day was the pinnacle of a multiday outbreak April 25-28, with 358 confirmed tornadoes in 21 states and total damages around $11 billion, making it the costliest outbreak in U.S. history.

The outbreak was notable for the violence of the tornadoes, and devastating storms roared through both Chickasaw and Monroe counties. Fifteen violent tornadoes rated EF-4 or higher, including four EF-5, struck Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. The Chickasaw tornadoes were measured EF-3; the Smithville weather monster was an EF-5, wiping out structures in the community of about 1,000.

Chickasaw County this month closed the books on its recovery effort, including payment of all debts. The Chickasaw Board of Supervisors decided to proceed with clean-up with a combined county effort and found extra resources in surrounding counties that sent workers in to help. The county eventually qualified for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds with a grant of $548,980. When all bills were paid, the expense was $530,000.
Smithville had few homes to which people could return immediately after the storm. The school was destroyed, the city’s facilities, and the lone large grocery store in town.

Mayor Gregg Kennedy declared within hours that Smithville would rebuild, and evidence of that effort is more visible virtually every day:

• Smithville’s schools have been rebuilt and opened for the fall semester, a morale-building benchmark;

• Churches have been rebuilt or are in the process;

• Contracts have been let or will be awarded within weeks for a new Town Hall and a government complex.

Kennedy said many residents whose homes disappeared in the storm won’t return and have built elsewhere, but he hopes that real estate will be put up for sale for new houses.
FEMA, so far, has spent $1.2 million in Smithville. An additional $500,000 is expected from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Legislature and other sources.

All things considered, the progress in Chickasaw County and in Smithville has been remarkable.

Smithville’s recovery includes a comprehensive plan to help ensure an orderly and beneficial rebuilding of a pleasant Southern residential community focused now on a new beginning with a strong foothold.