Storm Shelter - Smithville School gym doubles as storm shelter

A Smithville resident recalls surviving the EF-5 Tornado from 2011 as Smithville School's Principal explains the town is ready for potentially severe weather.

Posted: Mar 23, 2021 11:49 PM
Updated: Mar 24, 2021 12:32 AM

SMITHVILLE, Miss. (WTVA) -- In April of 2011, an EF-5 tornado devastated several towns across Mississippi and Alabama.

Now, Smithville School has a basketball gymnasium that doubles as a shelter, built a couple of years after that deadly tornado, according to the school's Principal.

The front doors of Smithville School gym. Photo taken 03-23-21.

This gym has a concrete ceiling, the principal said it is where hundreds of people come to shelter during a storm.

It's maximum capacity is 1,000 people seated, but he said they can fit more in there standing in the event of a major storm.

"A lot of folks are probably like, me, might not have taken storms seriously, but that's not really an issue now. When the sirens go off, this place gets packed quickly," Principal Chad O'Brian said.

O'Brian said that during school hours, he takes over operations of the gym, but after school hours, or if he's not in town, the City Hall and police take over and make sure the gym is operational for people to use.

"That's really the biggest thing in storms like this is just communication and preparedness ahead of time. You know once it hits, it's a little too late, as we found out back in 2011," O'Brian added.

Right down the street is a WTVA viewer who said he was listening to WTVA Meteorologist Matt Laubhan when the storm hit.

"This is a picture after the tornado with us," he said as he pointed to a photo of the damage to his property taken from an aerial view.

"We had a building here destroyed, building here destroyed, house destroyed, this is the office where we was standing, the only thing left was the floor."

He said the only building left in good shape was his barn.

"We were here in the hall of the house praying Lord, save us. And he did."

"Ever since then, I have to listen to Matt on the weather, afraid it's gonna be bad again. (laughs)"

He said that it was truly incredible to see the turnout of people to help after the storm, adding it took about 2 years for him to completely rebuild.

He said he's been through it, so he knows what to do if a tornado comes again, adding that he also prepares by making sure he has water and food.

"It's something you try to forget. I have after it happened, but it's part of life."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308737

Reported Deaths: 7139
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20931250
Hinds19961410
Harrison17562303
Rankin13369277
Jackson13156243
Madison9950212
Lee9890170
Jones8310161
Forrest7542148
Lauderdale7221237
Lowndes6289144
Lamar613384
Lafayette6072117
Washington5291133
Bolivar4776129
Oktibbeha457197
Panola4458103
Pearl River4437141
Warren4299119
Marshall4286102
Pontotoc417572
Monroe4062132
Union404675
Neshoba4005176
Lincoln3886109
Hancock373385
Leflore3471124
Sunflower331589
Tate325384
Pike3215105
Scott311472
Yazoo305069
Alcorn299465
Itawamba297877
Copiah293965
Coahoma290479
Simpson289586
Tippah285168
Prentiss276659
Marion266279
Leake261773
Wayne261541
Grenada256484
Covington255280
Adams246982
Newton245761
George238547
Winston226081
Tishomingo222567
Jasper220048
Attala213673
Chickasaw205457
Holmes187172
Clay183254
Stone179733
Clarke177776
Tallahatchie176140
Calhoun165431
Yalobusha160136
Smith159334
Walthall131043
Greene129633
Lawrence126623
Noxubee126534
Montgomery125742
Perry125238
Carroll120926
Amite120741
Webster113832
Jefferson Davis105532
Tunica103225
Claiborne101330
Benton97525
Kemper95628
Humphreys94632
Franklin82923
Quitman78916
Choctaw73917
Wilkinson65128
Jefferson64828
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 521623

Reported Deaths: 10739
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754061493
Mobile39067799
Madison34040496
Tuscaloosa25367444
Montgomery24019567
Shelby23186239
Baldwin20701302
Lee15589165
Calhoun14342311
Morgan14158271
Etowah13685346
Marshall11995220
Houston10404278
Elmore10011200
Limestone9852147
Cullman9503189
St. Clair9463234
Lauderdale9265228
DeKalb8757181
Talladega8115171
Walker7139275
Jackson6756110
Autauga6750103
Blount6519134
Colbert6229130
Coffee5424113
Dale4772111
Russell430038
Franklin420782
Chilton4101109
Covington4061114
Tallapoosa3907146
Escambia390174
Dallas3525149
Chambers3514122
Clarke347060
Marion3072100
Pike306176
Lawrence295995
Winston273172
Bibb256059
Marengo248361
Geneva246075
Pickens233259
Barbour226455
Hale218575
Butler212967
Fayette209460
Henry188044
Cherokee182644
Randolph177241
Monroe172540
Washington165238
Macon155648
Clay150155
Crenshaw149457
Cleburne146741
Lamar139734
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124427
Bullock121640
Conecuh109428
Perry107626
Sumter103232
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
Out of AL00
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Tupelo
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Hi: 68° Lo: 55°
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Columbus
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Oxford
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Starkville
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Some spotty showers will move through our area this morning but should clear out by the afternoon. We should see some breaks in the clouds and temperatures reaching the mid to upper 60s.
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