Hazel Noe, 80, of Poplar Street in Smithville died Wednesday morning at North Mississippi Medical Center from injuries she sustained in the storm, bringing the total tornado-related deaths in Monroe County to 16.
Wednesday afternoon a crowd of about 250 gathered in front of the rubble that just last week had been Smithville Baptist Church.
Mayor Gregg Kennedy, on his 50th birthday, announced the town was well on its way to recovery. Water was flowing to residents’ homes thanks to a water system the town had installed a couple years ago about seven miles away. A boil water notice is still in effect, however. Power also was being restored and much of the debris was beginning to be pushed into piles for removal.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is contracting for debris removal on anyone’s property who signs off for the free service. Monroe County Administrator Sonny Clay said the Corps’ involvement was “unprecedented.” The contractors were expected to be in Smithville and Wren by Monday. Only the Corps of Engineers is exempt from the burn ban that is still in effect for the county
Monroe County contractors can bid on the storm debris work in order to keep the money and jobs local. Contractors and others removing debris with heavy equipment are urged to use caution as the natural gas has been turned back on and power lines are also live again.
To help with debris and trash, county garbage collection will begin in Smithville immediately. The town’s green garbage dumpsters blew away, so the county’s brown dumpsters can be used for free.
Clay said it appears as if the entire clean-up project for Smithville could be a $6 million project.
In federal disasters, normally cities are expected to pay about 12.5 percent of that, the state 12.5 percent and 75 percent is federal funds. Smithville may not have to pay any of it, Clay said, noting that details are still being confirmed.
While the cleanup is ongoing, Federal Emergency Management Agency housing is being brought in and will be put on cleaned off home slabs for people to live in temporarily.
To get slabs cleaned off, Monroe County Sheriff Andy Hood said the curfew will remain in effect for a while longer. It has been extended from 7:30 p.m. until 6 a.m. Residents in the southern portion of the town may enter with a special pass.
New storm warning sirens will also be installed throughout Smithville. Kennedy said they will be twice as powerful as the last ones that did, in fact, go off prior to the EF-5 tornado. “We have already ordered them and they will be here and be better ones. I believe the sirens helped save lives,” he said.
While receiving updates and news of help, the funeral for longtime Smithville resident Jesse Cox, who died in the tornado, was in view. The distant sound of Taps being played was a sad reminder to those at the meeting that they had been spared and blessed.
“We will see the resurrection power of God,” Smithville Pastor Wes White said, closing the meeting with prayer. “Our community has been deeply wounded. We ask for God’s healing.”