May 4, 2011 10:49:00 AM
We commented last week that this would be remembered as north Mississippi and Alabama''s Katrina. It is, and it isn''t.
It''s the most devastating tornado storm in history. More tornadoes were spawned on April 27 than any other single day, ever. More than 200 tornadoes ravaged the earth as the storm moved across the South, including the EF-5 tornado, with its 205-mph winds, that devastated the town of Smithville. That tornado, by the way, was the largest ever recorded in Mississippi.
The death toll is topping 330 nationwide.
Columbus and Starkville were spared. But many of us, and those we know, were touched by the storm. Our friends and neighbors lost loved ones. Family members'' homes were destroyed, their possessions lost. Fate placed some Lowndes and Oktibbeha countians in the path of the tornadoes.
But it''s not Katrina, certainly not at the very top. After lazy, lackluster responses to the hurricane, and later, the Gulf oil spill, the federal government finally learned its lesson and pounced on Alabama and Mississippi.
We''re not talking about photo ops by the president. The Federal Emergency Management Agency jumped in quickly with supplies and staffers. "If you can''t tell me it''s not bad, I''m going to assume it''s bad ... and go," FEMA administrator Craig Fugate told The Associated Press while flying between Tuscaloosa and Smithville yesterday.
By Monday, FEMA was offering free medical and eye exams, and even free haircuts. More than 1,500 people across three states have requested federal aid. Millions of dollars in federal aid have already been freed up to be doled out.
But we''re more impressed, and draw our inspiration, for what many of our local people are doing for their neighbors to the north and east. Charity drives were springing up even as the vestiges of the storm were still blowing past last week. Friday, First Baptist Church members launched an impromptu water drive, and drove a vanload of water and food north to their sister church in New Albany, which is serving as a storm shelter.
Area United Way and Red Cross chapters were in the game early, setting up drop-off points for supplies and organizing volunteer teams and phone banks.
Local schools are providing prom dresses to Smithville students, helping them find a sense of normalcy amid the wreckage. Their school is destroyed, but the prom will go on.
Too many charity drives have been organized to name here. We were touched, and inspired, by the work of Columbus contractor Chan Davis, who is delivering giant containers of water and supplies to Smithville via his newly created charity, North Mississippi Tornado Relief. Like many of us, Davis knows some of the dead and displaced.
Mississippians, who are knocked as the poorest people in the nation, also lead every other state in charitable giving. We''re opening our hearts, and our wallets, to our neighbors. We may not have much to give, but we''re finding a way to give it.
We''re Mississippians. It''s what we do.