Devastation in Town of Smithfield leaves residents in disbelief

By Joleen Ferris

(WKTV) - Severe weather -- the kind that claims lives and levels homes -- is no longer something Central New Yorkers see only on television in stories about unfamiliar people in far-away communities.

A tornado, packing 100-125 mile-per-hour winds, cut a path of destruction through Smithfield, a rural town of around 1,200 people, in Madison County.  It happened around 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The storm's 2.5-mile path left the bodies of four victims in its wake, including members of three generations of one family. Kimberly Hillard, her 4-month-old daughter, Paris, and her aunt, Virginia Warner, were killed in Tuesday's storm.  Arnie Allen was also killed.  On Wednesday, Hillard's stepgrandfather, Damon Keville, surveyed the damage on Goff Road.

"She had a great job. She worked in Syracuse......very pretty, very talented, ambitious," said Keville of Hillard.

There are few strangers in a small town like Smithfield.  Fire Chief Chet Reeves II knew the people whose home he was responding to Tuesday night. 

"To see the amount of devastation, I've never seen anything like that before.  I mean, I was here part of the 1998 labor days storms, and that pales in comparison," said Reeves

Thirty-three years in law enforcement barely prepared Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley for what he saw on Goff Road on Tuesday night. 

"As I crested the hill, where the tree was down, there was a trailer with another victim in it. Then over the hill, there was another home, which was actually lifted from the foundation and traveled across the street and hit another home that was unoccupied," said Riley.

Daylight shed a harsh light on the power and reach of the deadly tornado.

"We received calls this morning from Oneida, which is probably about 7-8 miles as the crow flies if you look over the valley, that they were seeing mail from some of these residences, some belongings, DVDs with their names on it that had traveled that far in the wind," said Riley.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Smithfield and talked with homeowners on Wednesday. He told them and their local leaders that the family of New York stands with those who were lost in Madison County.

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