HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Dozens of people had the opportunity to take a look at progress made around the community following the EF-3 tornado in January of last year.
R3SM and The Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation hosted the free tornado recovery tour Thursday, nearly 13 months after the deadly storm hit parts of Petal, Hattiesburg and Lamar County.
"To drive through the community and see the blending of the blue roofs still on and the new builds there, just lets you know we still have work to do," said Reverend Steve Casteel, a R3SM board member. "Reminds us why long term recovery is so hard, you always have a next storm, another thing."
Folks loaded onto buses to drive around to five locations, homes and business, that have been rebuilt. The money used for the recovery was raised during the WDAM Pine Belt Strong Telethon, as well as several other organizations.
"We had teams from all over the country, teams from here. Some half day work teams, some month and months work teams, all come together, orchestrated," said Casteel. "It's just an incredible testimony to people's willingness to collaborate."
To date, more than $1 million have been approved for repairs and new construction. To put that money to work, R3SM had the help of over 1,000 volunteers. The organization said the volunteers worked for more than 30,000 hours, saving more than $800,000.
"This time, I didn't have the finances, so I'm thankful to god," said Dorothy Smith, one of the recipients of a new home the tour visited. She said she was home with her grandchildren when the storm hit.
"I'm thankful for whatever the lord has blessed me with and I'm thankful to be alive," Smith said. "I'm thankful to everybody who helped."
The tour also included a dedication ceremony of a brand new home for Gwendolyn Fairbanks, thanks to the Mennonite Disaster Service.
"To be able to put roots down and to figure out where you are going to put a picture on a wall, what color is going to be here — it's just a great feeling," Fairman said.
The guided tour also went through the campus of William Carey University, where construction continues, and to The Salvation Army in Hattiesburg.
You can get more information about The Greater Pinebelt Foundation, or if you'd like to volunteer with R3SM, visit R3SM.org.