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Immediate Preparations Underway for AmeriCares Relief Shipments to Aid Local Health Clinic and Displaced Families in Smithville

  • May 1, 2011

The Deadliest Outbreak of Twisters Since 1925 Decimated Cities and Towns across Seven States

The once-bustling town of Smithville, MS has been leveled by a monstrous 205 mph tornado, with 13 confirmed fatalities and as many as 50 of its 1,000 residents missing and feared dead. Many more are homeless. As AmeriCares emergency relief worker arrived on the scene, we learned that most of the deaths reported in Mississippi have come out of Smithville.

Smithville is one of many cities and towns from Louisiana to Alabama devastated by killer tornadoes on April 26-28 that left a swath of destruction across seven states, killing over 350, injuring thousands and leaving many more homeless. But the damage is so utterly complete in Smithville, the first town to record an EF-5 tornado, the most powerful category of twister on record.

AmeriCares emergency response worker, ET Theotokatos, arrived in Smithville on April 30, after completing a relief delivery to North Carolina, ready to mobilize immediate emergency aid to the storm-ravaged community before moving on to Alabama.

Nothing could prepare him for what he saw as he was escorted by the National Guard though the battered heart of town to the Access Family Health Clinic.

“I witnessed utter destruction. I could count only four standing structures. Everything else seemed vaporized. A whole trailer park had been whisked away. Town hall — destroyed. Elementary school – flattened. Police station — gone. And house after house reduced to rubble.”

What’s left of the town is unrecognizable. More than 150 homes are destroyed, leaving families to seek refuge with neighbors or in shelters. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) officials cordoned off the town’s center to allow search and rescue teams to work uninterrupted.

The Access Family Health Clinic is still standing, but much of its roof is torn off and the surrounding ground littered with fallen trees. More than 30 doctors, nurses, patients and staff who huddled together when the tornado struck, count themselves lucky to be alive. Now, they are determined to help care for both uninsured patients who rely on their services and the many victims of the monumental disaster. Amidst this incredible adversity, the spirit of Smithville is still alive. Hundreds of volunteers are out cleaning, clearing trees, and handing out food and water.

Significant storm damage to Smithville health clinic.

Significant storm damage to Smithville health clinic.

Based on a meeting with clinic leadership, AmeriCares has launched an immediate response. “We are preparing a shipment of chronic care medicines, as well as other critical supplies to meet expressed needs,” explained Ella Gudwin, VP of Emergency Response at AmeriCares. “We are also working with the local United Way to help displaced families in the Smithville area with a shipment of hygiene items and clean-up supplies. Going forward, we will work with the clinic to assist in the rebuilding process.”

Next, AmeriCares is moving across the border into Alabama to meet with clinics and shelters who have requested help. Partnering with Feeding America and Nestle Water North America, AmeriCares is readying four truckloads of hygiene items and another 256,000 bottles of water, and is actively building a list of crucial medical aid and supplies.

Alabama is by far the worst-hit state, with 254 deaths, including 45 in the city of Tuscaloosa alone where a mile-wide tornado devastated the city, wiping out entire neighborhoods. More than 450 remain missing and thousands are homeless. AmeriCares is working to supply health care providers with the medicines they need to restock for patients who have lost their homes in Tuscaloosa, Cullman, and Birmingham — areas which endured massive destruction.

AmeriCares responds immediately to disasters:  tornadoes in the South, hurricanes in the Gulf, floods in the Pacific Northwest, wildfires in the West. Wherever disaster strikes in the U.S. and around the world, we are ready to help save lives and restore health and hope.

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