On March 24, 2023, shortly after 8 p.m., a tornado hit the small community of Rolling Fork in rural Mississippi. With winds of 197 mph, the tornado was just 3 mph shy of an EF5.
During the catastrophe, 14 people were killed, and numerous members of the community experienced injuries.
Two Bank of Anguilla employees were among the injured. “One of these employees sustained serious injuries,” says Andy Anderson, president and CEO of the $190 million-asset community bank.
Sixteen of the bank’s 32 employees had damage to their homes, two of which were destroyed completely. Six employees had heavy damage to their homes, which will require extensive work. Six months later, eight of the bank’s employees remained without homes.
Anderson himself was home when the tornado hit. After seeing to his wife’s safety, he ran around opening doors to equalize the pressure. That’s when, through flashes of lightning, he saw the tornado a few hundred yards away.
“Our house shook,” he says. “A lot of debris hit our house, and some actually came into the house.”
In Rolling Fork, early estimates of the damage included 251 completely destroyed homes. In terms of local businesses, 32 were devastated—alongside three that experienced major damage and nine with minor. Despite this already massive scale of damage, Anderson believes the early estimates are understated by as much as 10% to 20%.
Bank of Anguilla itself sustained damage as well, going a week without power and longer without water. Even now, the bank has a tarp instead of a roof. But despite everything it has faced, the community bank and its staff remained steadfast.
“All employees who were available volunteered each day, clearing debris or working in the disaster distribution center.”
—Andy Anderson, Bank of Anguilla
Coming to the Community’s Rescue
As the only bank within the counties of Sharkey and Issaquena, Bank of Anguilla took on a pivotal role. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, through the Bank of Anguilla, has given $1,272,758 in grants to small businesses in Rolling Fork to help them recover.
Bank of Anguilla was also instrumental in taking donations for the local Baptist church, which led the donation drive for the town. In addition, since Rolling Fork’s post office was destroyed, the bank collected numerous donations at its main office in Anguilla.
The Red Cross and Samaritans Purse met with survivors within the bank’s lobby in Rolling Fork. “At one point, there were over 300 people displaced in hotels and motels, which does not include all of the people living with relatives, in deer camps or vacant housing in the county,” Anderson says.
Bank employees themselves also helped in more direct ways. “All employees who were available volunteered each day, clearing debris or working in the disaster distribution center,” says Anderson. “We cooked for the town and hosted people
cooking in our parking lot, as there were hundreds of workers in town and very little to no dining options available much of the time for these workers or the inhabitants of the town.”
Planning for the Future
One thing Anderson has learned from this devastation is that community banks in rural areas need to not only have disaster recovery plans for their banks, but also for their communities. So Bank of Anguilla set up its own disaster account to provide financial assistance for relief efforts.
“Progress is very slow,” says Anderson. “Some rebuilding has begun. However, being an hour to an hour and a half away from any ‘major’ towns or cities makes it difficult to get contractors to come in.”
Despite this, Bank of Anguilla is putting its best foot forward. The community bank has begun collaborating with local organizations to build new houses while also addressing the mental health impact that such devastation has on the community. In due time, its efforts will surely make a difference.
The Damage in Numbers
251 homes were completely destroyed.
76 homes sustained major damage and are currently uninhabitable, with extensive repair required.
32 businesses were completely destroyed.