Last year, Mississippians again witnessed the devastation that severe storms and flooding can bring to our communities. As a swath of extreme weather cut across the South, the widespread damage it left to homes, schools, churches, and businesses turned counties across the state into federal disaster areas.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families who lost loved ones during those dark hours, and we remain grateful to the many first responders and volunteers who acted quickly to help their neighbors in need. Once again, the courage and strength of Mississippians exemplified our state's unshakable spirit in the face of extraordinary challenges.
The story of Smithville is a remarkable example of this resilience. On April 27, 2011, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the close-knit community in Monroe County with an intensity that our state had not seen in almost 50 years. Winds topped 205 miles per hour and left 150 homes in ruins. Tragically, 16 people in the small town of about 900 lost their lives.
While recovery work is still going on, the citizens of Smithville are making impressive strides to rebuild their community. Next month in Washington, the Small Business Administration will recognize Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy with the prestigious Phoenix Award for his inspiring leadership and perseverance in the aftermath of disaster. The award is a well-deserved honor for a true Mississippi hero.
We know that preparedness can save lives, even when dangerous weather events occur with little warning. Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initiated the first-ever National Severe Weather Preparedness Week.
The "Be a Force of Nature" campaign from FEMA and NOAA offers Mississippians a prime opportunity to develop their own preparedness plans before severe weather strikes. The agencies recommend learning about the risks that come with hazardous weather and establishing a family communication plan and emergency supply kit. These and other life-saving tips can be found online at www.ready.gov/severeweather.
The Mighty Mississippi
Early preparation and foresight were critical to stemming the impact of the historic flooding in our state and across the Mississippi valley last spring. We can be thankful that a larger disaster was averted -- a success owed to the levees and spillways of the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project, which was authorized by Congress after the Great Flood of 1927.
And yet, the rising tides that displaced thousands last year are an acute reminder of the destructive capabilities of the Mighty Mississippi. In our state, the losses are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Recovery efforts are still underway to get residents back into their homes and businesses thriving again.
Mississippi has more than five million acres of floodplain and ranks eighth in the nation for repetitive-loss structures, or structures prone to frequent flooding. Planning ahead to protect lives, property, and financial security from nature's fury is essential to preserving the quality of life in our state's vibrant communities. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has helpful information about our state's weather risks online at www.msema.org.