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Smithville business people resolve to rebuild community

Damage assessment in Smithville was underway last week, after the state’s first confirmed EF-5 tornado in almost 50 years killed 15 people and destroyed a large portion of the town’s homes and businesses April 27.

Statewide, the April 27 outbreak destroyed 41 businesses, and left 74 with major damage, according to numbers from Gov. Haley Barbour’s office. A lot of those destroyed were in Smithville, whose population is somewhere between 800 and 900.

Tony Green, president of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, said last week in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal that all of Smithville’s businesses that are able to do so, he expects, will eventually rebuild.

Townhouse Home Furnishings is among them. Townhouse’s Smithville facility sustained heavy damage, the twister’s 205 mph winds rendering it unusable. The company has temporarily moved to a publicly owned facility in Mantachie, about 30 miles north of Smithville, where it will employ 150 people.

“However, we are committed to Smithville and will rebuild the plant there,” Townhouse’s CFO Tony Watson said in a joint press release with Gov. Haley Barbour. “The demand for our Townhouse product will allow us to continue operations at the Mantachie location and rebuild the Smithville plant in the future.”

No timetable has been set.

Barbour’s office had yet to compile total economic impact numbers related to storms as of last Thursday.

“Damage assessments by emergency management officials and insurance companies are ongoing so it would be inappropriate to define the economic impact at this time,” Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp wrote in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal.

Green said last Tuesday he hoped to have an idea of the financial hit Smithville and Monroe County as a whole took by last Friday. Like most communities the size of Smithville, it had only one or two of almost everything — grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and restaurants.

“I would say, and I haven’t talked to the owner, that I’d be surprised if the grocery store there didn’t rebuild,” Green said. “You’re talking about a town with a population of just over 800, so it’s large enough to support a grocery store and a few different things.

“We’ve got a couple of restaurants there that kind of serve as the meeting place. I would think in time they’ll build back. Right now, everybody’s waiting to get a grasp on their insurance situation. Most of our businesses were insured, of course, so that’s a positive. They’re just waiting to see what the settlement is going to look like. The assistance has been overwhelming.”

United Furniture, which has plants in Okolona and Amory, has pledged $150,000 toward the clean-up and recovery effort. Two different anonymous donors have given a $150,000 lump sum and $1,000 each to homeowners in Smithville, respectively. Green said that money is already being administered.

A branch of Tupelo-based Renasant Bank was the only bank in Smithville. Renasant spokesperson John Oxford said that branch is open and is serving customers. He added that employees there rode out the storm in the bank vault.


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