By Jason Smith
Early in the morning on April 5, a powerful tornado tore through Bollinger County leaving a seemingly endless path of destruction. Dodging downed power lines and other dangerous situations, neighbors and first responders rushed in immediately to search for victims and save lives. While the homes and businesses that were destroyed can be rebuilt, nothing will ever bring back the 5 people who lost their lives. The road to recovery will be a long one, but the folks of Bollinger County are strong and committed to rebuilding the community they love.
I’m very proud of the great job law enforcement and local leaders have done to help their community make it through this tragedy. While meeting with the Village of Glen Allen Trustees, law enforcement, and community members in Bollinger County, it was heartening to hear stories of non-profit organizations, churches, and private companies rushing in to provide support, neighbors helping neighbors, and brave first responders putting themselves in harm’s way.
As I was surveying the damage, I spoke to a family who survived the tornado thanks to what can only be described as an act of God. At around 3:30am on April 5, the parents got out of bed to check on their infant child who was crying. After realizing they were in the middle of getting hit with a very powerful storm, the family – who lives in an area where tornado sirens don’t exist – rushed their entire family down to the basement just moments before their house was completely flattened.
Oftentimes, communities don’t have emergency warning systems or are located in areas where weather radar is spotty or non-existent. Compounding the issue is the fact that many of these communities don’t have cell phone service or reliable internet. The bottom line is that rural communities don’t have the same tools as urban areas that help save lives when severe weather hits.
That’s a big reason why I have pushed so hard to ensure that new dollars being invested in broadband and cellular infrastructure are not simply improving existing service, but actually bringing it to areas that lack it. People in Washington are always surprised when I tell them that this is what life is like for us in rural America. While companies roll out the latest broadband technology known as “5G”, I point out that in rural Missouri, we would gladly settle for a single G. Ensuring every Missourian has access to high-speed internet has been, and will continue to be, a top priority for me.
What’s incredibly frustrating is that a person’s address often determines whether they’ll qualify for disaster aid. Homeowners and businesses in rural areas are less likely to qualify for disaster assistance because the value of their property doesn’t meet a certain threshold. It’s absolutely unacceptable, and yet another example of how rural areas are treated differently than bigger towns and cities.
I’ll continue working closely with leaders at all levels of government to help Bollinger County on its long road to recovery. In addition, I’ll keep advocating to help communities across the state get tools that are critical to saving lives when disaster hits.
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