Mayor says progress 'slow and steady'

Thursday, September 21, 2006

CARUTHERSVILLE, Mo. -- Mayor Diane Sayre sees progress every day in her tornado-ravaged town.

An F3 tornado destroyed more than half of Caruthersville on April 2. The tornado destroyed approximately 240 homes and severely damaged another 375.

"It's been slow and steady progress, but we're very optimistic," Sayre said.

Across the city, destroyed homes have been demolished. Many residents have begun to rebuild. Children are back to school after a four-month summer.

Elementary school began Sept. 5, and middle and high school students arrived at temporary classrooms last week. The high school suffered major damage from the tornado.

"We have gotten off to a good start," said superintendent Nick Thiele. "Things seem to be going well, and the students have really adjusted."

Despite the fact that a majority of the students now live in temporary housing, enrollment hasn't dropped much, Thiele said.

The Caruthersville School Board plans to place a $4.5 million bond issue on the November ballot to rebuild the high school. The district expects to receive about $2.5 million from its insurance settlement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

An architect began initial drawings of the anticipated $7 million building several weeks ago.

"It seems to be the general consensus of the community to replace the building. We do have some contingency plans should the bond issue not pass. One of those is to repair the existing building," Thiele said.

Last month, Gov. Matt Blunt announced that Caruthersville and Pemiscot County will receive more than $600,000 in state-issued grants and tax credits to support recovery efforts. Caruthersville will receive a Community Development Block Grant worth $300,000. The grant will be used to assist with ongoing demolition and debris removal.

The Department of Economic Development will also issue $350,000 in Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits to aid the rehabilitation efforts in Pemiscot County. The tax credits will assist area residents who lost their homes, and will provide transportation assistance for residents who lost their vehicles.

Volunteers continue to arrive in Caruthersville to help with cleanup efforts. On Monday, Linda Page of Sedalia, Mo., and Carol Oliver, of Columbia, Mo., picked up debris at the site of the Boys and Girls Club.

The women were part of a mission team with the Methodist Church's office of creative ministry.

"This is my first time down here. I kind of put it out of my mind, but there's still a lot of stuff that needs to be done," Oliver said. "Unless you are actually here, you don't really understand it."

-- Jennifer Freeze

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