Parish pays it forward to Smithville tornado victims

Volunteers drive 350 miles to deliver goods

May 27, 2011 at 9:36 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Bonnie Hymel, Mikki Pritchet, Chrisha Pool, Allen Carmouche, Allyn Smith, Jeffrey Fabachen and Dakrea Mendoza enjoy a quick bite to eat after delivering supplies to Smithville.
Courtesy photo
Bonnie Hymel, Mikki Pritchet, Chrisha Pool, Allen Carmouche, Allyn Smith, Jeffrey Fabachen and Dakrea Mendoza enjoy a quick bite to eat after delivering supplies to Smithville.
After tornadoes ripped through the south in April, leaving total destruction in parts of Mississippi and Alabama, several St. Charles Parish businesses and residents stepped up to help.

In just one week, around $45,000 in food, water, clothes, kid’s toys, tools and safety equipment was collected at the St. Rose Volunteer Fire Department. Paul Hymel, the fire chief in St. Rose, said almost everyone that stopped by to donate said the same thing.

“Everyone wanted to help because we’ve been through this with Katrina and we know how it feels,” he said. “Everyone was saying how appreciative they were when they received similar items during Katrina. I know that during Katrina just being able to change your socks made all the difference in the world.”

So many items were donated to the fire station that a 26-foot Penske truck and a 12-foot trailer were completely loaded with clothes, toys and supplies. At first, the goods were going to be delivered to Tuscaloosa, Ala. which suffered massive damage when a mile-wide tornado barreled through the heart of the city. But Hymel discovered that donations were already pouring into that area, while some other places weren’t receiving as much help.

That’s when he heard about Smithville, Miss.

The small town of around 900 people suffered greatly when a tornado wiped out almost the entire area. At least sixteen people, mostly children, were killed and several more were injured.

The town’s main street, town hall, school and church were completely wiped off the map and 14 of the 16 businesses that inhabit the area were destroyed. So volunteers sprang into action after loading up the Penske truck and the trailer. Seven people, including Allen Carmouche, Allyn Smith, Mikki Pritchet, Dakrea Mendoza, Chrisha Pool, Jeffrey Fabachen and  Bonnie Hymel drove 350 miles to deliver supplies to the once idyllic town.

“We when got there, the people were so happy and grateful,” Bonnie said. “The town was in shambles, pictures don’t even do it justice.”

Bonnie said she met one survivor and spoke to her for almost an hour.

“She said that she usually hides in her closet during a tornado, but she didn’t happen to be home at the time. When she got to her house, which was destroyed, her closet was 12 feet from the house,” she said.

The corn was completely ripped out of the ground around the home and there is even a huge indentation in the town’s water tower from a truck that was thrown into it.

“The woman’s husband was a deacon and they found one of his certificates in Franklin, Tenn.,” Bonnie said. “It was just so terrible. I’ll take a hurricane over a tornado like that any day.”

The group returned home from Smithville a day later, but even now they are struck by how generous the St. Charles community was.

“The donations just poured in,” Hymel said. “Everyone just gave, and gave and gave.”

Along with several individuals, some major businesses that donated supplies to the tornado victims include:
Carl Woodward, Ram Tool, St. Rose Volunteer Fire Department Women’s Auxiliary, Home Depot, Kenner Police Department, St. Charles Parish School Board Maintenance Department, Ethel Schoeffner Elementary, Pot of Gold, IMTT, Arascmo, Majoria’s Supermarket, Frank’s Supervalu, CADS Service, Preventive Maintenance and Service and the St. Rose Volunteer Fire Department.

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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