SMITHVILLE, Miss. (WTVA) - Two years ago, an EF-5 tornado damaged the entire town of Smithville, including the school grounds, but this year, students at the Smithville Attendance Center will learn in a new facility.
"I want to be clear," said Chad O'Brian, Smithville High School Principal. "We're not lucky. We're blessed."
And that was the message among most residents, teachers and students at the grand opening of the new campus.
In April 2011, the tornado ripped through Smithville and severely damaged the buildings on campus where they had to be demolished or completely renovated.
"We were just so scared about what was going to happen next and if we were going to get our school back," said Amber Vice, a sixth grader at the time of the tornado.
"At first, it didn't seem real," said Billie Claire, high school senior. "The longer we stayed at our temporary campus, it all just overwhelmed us at once."
Two years later, the sentiments are different, and students are actually ready to begin the new year.
"The fact that we actually have a permanant school again to call home, it's one of those great blessings from God," said Tanner Palmer, high school senior.
"It just feels normal and like home," Claire said.
The tornado may have destroyed homes, businesses and the school grounds, but according to residents, it never damaged their spirits.
Instead, they fought back.
"There's something about an inner spirit of moving forward, dealing with the present and not becoming trapped in that disaster," said Rebecca Cagle, mother of 2011 graduate.
Tanner Palmer was a freshman when the tornado hit, and he said he remembers when he knew everything would be alright, the reconstruction of the football field.
"Just having the ability to have the public event back where we could have football games, it was great to actually be back on the campus doing something," Palmer said.
Rebecca Cagle's son was senior class president the year of the tornado, and she said he and his classmates dedicated a memorial to remind the Smithville residents of their hard work and dedication.
"It reads, 'Here stand the resilient; tested and proven true,'" Cagle said. "That's all you can do is deal with the present, look forward and know you are blessed and not lucky."
Along with a new K-6 building and renovations to the high school, the campus now features a tornado-proof dome and gymnasium.
The Smithville Attendance Center along with roughly 80 percent of the town were destroyed by the tornado.