One year ago – April 27, 2011 – Northeast Mississippi endured one of the most violent and deadly severe weather days in history, and no place was harder hit than Smithville, the largely residential and school-centered Monroe County community where 17 people died and many others were injured.
The EF-5 tornado, the most powerful category with winds of 200 mph or higher, took only seconds to roar through Smithville, leveling most of the town and spinning eastward, leaving a tell-tale gouge of damage through forests and farm lands.
The Smithville storm was the first EF-5 tornado in the United States in three years, the National Weather Service confirmed after originally rating the storm an EF-4.
The storm system also left fatalities and extensive property damage in Chickasaw County. The system led to long-track tornadoes across six southern states, taking 321 lives and injuring thousands.
Mississippi is part of Tornado Alley, a broad region in which generations beyond memory have known to remain on guard for tornadic systems, understanding that no month is tornado proof.
Scars remain in Smithville, but rebuilding continues, anchored arguably by reconstruction of the Smithville School, the center of community life for decades.
Smithville wisely turned to specialized assistance – including Mississippi State University’s small town center. By the end of summer Smithville adopted a comprehensive recovery plan, and for the first time, adopted a building code ordinance to help ensure that Smithville would not be just replicated but rebuilt better than before.
The extent of rebuilding reaches far beyond individual residences. Public facilities set for rebuilding include the police station, the local medical clinic, restoration of other municipal facilities, and, it is hoped, the reopening of retail stores that make life convenient and generate essential sales tax revenues.
Most importantly, Smithville’s leaders and residents have kept a focused, positive state of mind and shown patience during what can seem a maddeningly slow process.