U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Obama Administration Cabinet members Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, as well as Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills, and other state and local officials to tour areas in Alabama and Mississippi affected by last week’s tornadoes.
After visiting devastated sites in Birmingham and nearby areas, the group crossed over to Mississippi, where they surveyed the damage done to Smithville, a town of approximately 1000 that was almost literally wiped off the map.
In Smithville, Miss. the senior administration officials were joined by Mississippi’s USDA Rural Development State Director Trina George, who had made the trek from her home in central Mississippi in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday, the day after the tornado hit. State Director George viewed damaged areas in Maben, Amory, and parts of Chickasaw County on Thursday. She had monitored the tornado, keeping in contact with local officials as the tornado went through Mississippi on Wednesday. She linked up on Thursday morning with local USDA personnel in Oktibbeha County, arriving only hours after the tornado had passed through. She also toured damaged areas in Neshoba and Kemper Counties that afternoon.
“It is heartbreaking to see this damage and to talk to the people who are victims of the tornado,” said George. “I was able to not only see the physical damages, but I was able to listen to some of the actual victims, many of whom had lost everything. However, I can report that USDA Rural Development has programs that can offer some relief to these unfortunate victims.”
George cited USDA Rural Development programs such as funding to replace and repair single-family homes, shared community facilities and the water and wastewater systems in the damaged areas. “I want to make sure that people know about the availability of our programs, especially our single-family home loan and home repair loan programs, so that they can rebuild their homes and businesses and continue to have clean water.”
George has a history of fast action on disaster relief. Most recently, she was on the scene the day after tornadoes ran thru Holmes and Yazoo Counties in 2009 and made sure that USDA Rural Development programs were a part of both the immediate and long-term relief efforts in those counties. Local officials in both counties credited George and USDA Rural Development for their fast work in making resources available, especially to the homeowners who lost their homes in that disaster.
“These people have lost everything but their spirit. For them to see the highest officials in our nation’s government, including Cabinet secretaries and head of relief agencies coming to what is left of their town to see the damage personally,” Said George, “I can’t convey to ya’ll how uplifting that is to those people. It means the world.”