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Monday, May 12, 2014

Louisville, Mississippi, Rebuilds After Tornado

Penny Crowson salvages what she can from her home after it was destroyed on Monday by a tornado on May 1, 2014 in Louisville, Mississippi. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Penny Crowson salvages what she can from her home after it was destroyed on Monday by a tornado on May 1, 2014 in Louisville, Mississippi. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Another day of severe thunderstorms and possibly a few tornadoes are predicted today for much of the Midwest and Plains states, after powerful storms moved through Nebraska yesterday.

In Louisville, Mississippi, people are still cleaning up from a deadly round of thunderstorms two weeks ago that destroyed three industrial buildings and severely damaged the area hospital.

Gerald Mills, a business leader in town, tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that he’s optimistic his area will bounce back, but it’s going to take a while.




Well, it's another day of severe thunderstorms and tornado watches across a broad swath of the country, from San Antonio to Chicago. Several twisters tore through Nebraska yesterday, and towns that are hit will have other towns to turn to. In Louisville, Mississippi, people are still recovering from that string of deadly tornadoes two weeks ago. The spotlight has moved, but they are still in the recovery process. We wanted to check in.

Gerald Mills is executive director of the Winston County Economic Development Partnership. Gerald, how are you doing?

GERALD MILLS: Well, I'm doing better than I did yesterday and not as good as I'm going to be doing tomorrow.

YOUNG: Is that an attitude of optimism you have to take? You had 10 people die, buildings destroyed, including your hospital and buildings that were going to house new business. Do you just have to decide you're going to pick yourselves up?

MILLS: Oh yes, without a doubt, you know you've got to have hope. Just going about the day-to-day things, you've got to have an anchor point to get back to.

YOUNG: Well, I'm looking at Smithville, Mississippi, which was devastated by tornadoes three years ago. They're just completing buildings like a new town hall. That's three years. They've lost several hundred people from the town that had to move away because there was no housing. So start there. What are you going to do for housing for people who have lost homes?

MILLS: Well, you know, we're hoping there'll be, you know, private developers come in, and right now people are dealing with the insurance. So they really don't know what they're going to do. And, you know, a person here in my office, she lost her house, she lost her car, she lost everything, and I said what are you going to do? And she said, you know, we really don't know.

You know, our primary responsibility right now is to get people back to work. Two hundred people in our hospital are out of work. We've got a temporary hospital going in. We need those 200 people back working. We've got some jobs that are around in factories and we're trying to get those factories back going.

You know, if you lose your house, and you lose your job, you don't have any hope. And again, you know, our responsibility for the city is to provide hope.

YOUNG: Well, if you don't have jobs and housing, you often move. And again...

MILLS: That's right.

YOUNG: You want to keep people here. You mentioned businesses. We know you are the home to Teters Floral Products. Sixty to 100 people work there. But the roof is off. And there was also a company coming from Oregon to start a plywood mill, that's Natron, I believe, Wood Products.

MILLS: Right, Natron Wood Products. And, you know, they called us the night of the storm and said don't let anybody say that we're not going to come. You know, they were there. They flew in the next day, and their mill was destroyed, and they ordered equipment to start clearing that site. And, you know, that's 200 to 400 jobs.

And they were going to start hiring in June but, you know, they will be going, we hope, by a year from now. But it certainly delayed our efforts.

YOUNG: Well, and if they're not working, then some of your loggers in the area aren't working because they're not buying wood from them. So it has a trickle-down effect. Well, might this be a chance for a town, though, to rethink what it wants to do? I know you're applying for federal assistance, and that might come in the form of mobile homes, but everybody's realizing, wow, we don't have any rentals here. Might you look to changing the nature of the town so that you do have more rentals?

MILLS: Well, you know, we're home here to Hughes Construction that does apartments, and they're certainly stepping up to the plate. And, you know, we may be dealing with some trailers temporarily. You know, right now we're trying to link people with any kind of location we can get them into to meet their needs on a short-term basis.

YOUNG: Yeah, well, I'm thinking, too, trailers, as we see over and over and over again, just can't withstand these storms. So maybe it's a chance, too, to batten down the hatches a little more when you rebuild.

MILLS: Well, it will. We went to Smithville, and we saw tornado shelters that were gymnasiums and it gave them a sense of security. And, you know, we're certainly going to rethink a lot of the things that have evolved over the years. It gives us a chance to start new and get it right, and we don't have but one chance to get it right. So we need to be careful that we do get it right.

YOUNG: You know, you mentioned you went to Smithville in Mississippi. Again, they're recovering from their tornadoes three years ago. What else did you learn from them?

MILLS: Well, what I learned is the morning after the tornado, the mayor of Smithville showed up here, put his arms around us and said let me tell you what happened to me, let me help you, and stayed here for probably three days going 24 hours a day saying, you know, this is what we did, this is the problems. And that was invaluable.

YOUNG: Well, I just - one last question. You also mentioned your hospital, devastated, and that's, you know, people are out of work, 200 people who work there, but also health care is tough. You've got a storefront where some people are going. You were supposed to get a field hospital, a federal field hospital that could be set up. Did that come?

MILLS: That is coming, and we're in the process of hopefully by tomorrow will be a working hospital. We've been going 24 hours a day clearing a 70,000-square-foot slab in the back of Teters down there, which was totally devastation two weeks ago and is now going to be a hospital. And you've got the two weeks of just reacting to everything that comes up that seems to be an emergency, and you've just got to take a breath and say, OK, how are we going to eat this elephant, and it's one bite at a time, and just decide, you know, which is a bite that you can get the best and the quickest. So...

YOUNG: Yeah.

MILLS: But it's certainly eating an elephant.

YOUNG: Well, we wish you all the best, and we'll put something at our website if people want to get involved and help. Gerald Mills, executive director of the Winston County Economic Development Partnership there in Louisville, Mississippi, hard hit by a tornado two weeks ago. Thanks for speaking with us.

MILLS: Thank you so much for your interest in our community.

YOUNG: OK. And a quick note. You may have heard that the violent group Boko Haram released a video today claiming to show many of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Foreign language spoken).

YOUNG: The girls are in full veils, chanting prayers. The group's leader says they've converted to Islam and will be held until the Nigerian government releases militants, a sign some see, saying that he's already negotiating. The AP reports parents are turning on a generator, hoping they can watch the video and identify their daughters. We'll continue to follow this story for you. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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