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Smithville celebrates new domed gym-disaster structure as tornado recovery continues

SMITHVILLE, Mississippi — Monroe County received a check for $1.4 million Friday to put toward the cost of building the Smithville school’s new monolithic dome gym, a tornado-resistant structure that replaces the gym destroyed on April 27, 2011 by an EF5 tornado that roared through the center of town, killing 16 people.

The domed gym at the Smithville Attendance Center – the town’s K-12 school — will also serve as a disaster shelter for local students and the community. The structure can accommodate up to 3,000 people and is designed to withstand winds of up to 256 mph, according to Robert Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Gov. Phil Bryant and first lady Deborah Bryant joined Latham in presenting the check Friday. The money represents the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 75 percent share of building the domed gym. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency contributed 12.5 percent of the cost and Monroe County the remaining portion.

Latham said the wind-resistant gym reflects Mississippi’s post-Katrina strategy of building back public buildings destroyed by storms to withstand the force of most all future tornadoes and hurricanes. “Not only do we build back but build back better and stronger,” he said.

The powerful tornado of late April 2011 destroyed 153 homes, four churches, the Town Hall, the police headquarters and 14 of the 15 businesses in the one-square-mile town.

One of the churches, Smithville First Baptist Church, rebuilt and dedicated its new home in July.

Smithville recently started work on a new community health center that will be much larger than the one destroyed by the tornado. Ground also has been broken on a new town hall.

Smithville still has no grocery store but Latham said a butcher shop will open soon.

A rebound is by no means a certainty when a town sustains such a large loss of life and property, Latham noted. “If you don’t get your act together very quickly, people will just leave. That’s not what you are seeing here, he added, citing the rebuilding of schools, churches and businesses.


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