Smithville, Mississippi is about thirty-five miles southeast of Tupelo, almost on the Alabama line. Driving into town on Highway 25, the first hint that something is amiss is the large number of slanted trees – really slanted trees. Some of Smithville’s trees point skyward, but many seem to be growing not toward the sun, but toward the sunrise or sunset. Well, the horizon at any rate. Actually, a good number of them are lying on the ground, another hint that something’s not quite right. Then there is the decided dearth of houses. There’s a house here or there, but for the most part the only roadside sights visible on the drive into Smithville are slanted trees and piles of debris neatly arranged along the roadside. The piles are a few inches to several feet in height and consist of all sorts of things: metal, glass, broken boards, the occasional cooler, ball of wire or bit of furniture. Otherwise, there is little to see for what seems like miles. Actually, it’s just yards – the town of Smithville only covers one and a half square miles – but it’s hard to measure distance without any sort of markers.
|This is the largest pile of debris remaining.|
Almost all of Smithville’s markers disappeared last April 27 when an EF5 tornado some three miles high cut a swath right down Main Street. Seventeen people died that day – out of a population of about 850. Twenty businesses were leveled, along with two hundred homes, according to USA Today. That’s a lot of homes.
|Tarped downtown building -- one of a few that "survived".|
This was some tornado, the strongest to hit the area since sometime in the sixties. It roared through town at 200+ miles an hour, destroying everything in its path – pulling forty-foot trees out of the ground, rootballs and all, sucking other trees toward its vortex with such power that they now defy gravity. And, of course, it did what tornadoes always seem to do: here and there it left one house untouched amidst a neighborhood of flattened houses. There’s always that one pristine house left standing just to spook everybody.
|The blue tarp in the distance covers one of the damaged school buildings.|
School will be starting in Smithville in a couple weeks, although their school was severely damaged and is nowhere near ready for students. It looks like it was a very nice school, which isn’t surprising since Smithville appears to be rather upscale for a place of its size. The 600 students had to finish the last school year at the Advanced Learning Center in nearby Becker, Mississippi, but this year the county’s moving in 44 portable classrooms and they’re all excited to be back in town.
|Smithville FEMA trailers|
Smithville is amazingly clean for a town that was destroyed only three months ago. Volunteer workers have flooded the place and it’s obvious the townsfolk have been hard at work. As far as trash goes, the piles by the highway seem to be the very tail end of the cleanup and, all things considered, the area is clean as a whistle. Some foundations for new houses have been poured and building and repair work are going on, but it’s slow going starting from total devastation. Still, it’s impressive what has been accomplished so far and we’re going back in a year or two when, no doubt, we will find a beautiful Smithville.