A look at tornado-ravaged metro communities rebuilding six months after the storms

SMITHVILLE, Mo. -- In just seconds nearly everything Matt Gaines and his partner owned was gone.

"That had to be the most depressing experience I've had in my life is going through and itemizing everything for insurance we had," he said.

They lived on the east side of Smithville Lake where numerous homes were damaged by the same tornado that touched down exactly six months ago today along W Highway in Smithville.

"We had walls missing and we had a couple (homes) removed from their foundation and I thought 'oh man this is going to be a long-term project,'" Smithville Mayor Brian Fullmer said.

Twenty homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the Diamond Crest neighborhood. Six months later, only one homeowner has yet to start to rebuild, and most homes look as good as new.

"Things are mostly back to normal here and we are very happy with the response we received not only from residents from our community, but also the county," Mayor Fullmer said.

Gaines has just started to rebuild his home a few yards from where it was demolished.

"We weren't sure we were going to rebuild, the people, our friends, our neighbors, that made the decision for us," Gaines said of the community support.

He and his partner Adrian survived the tornado when a safe fell on them in the basement, protecting them from swirling debris.

"We did have belongings found near the Lathrop fairgrounds, and that's seven miles away," Gaines said.

That includes a World War II photo of one his family members.

His new house won't have a basement, but the first thing he asked contractors for was a storm shelter.

"People think they are so expensive and they are not, it could save your life," he said.

He said not only will their new house be stronger, so will be his community.

"Six months ago when I talked to you I wasn't smiling, I am today," Gaines said.

Gaines said his best advice after living through the tragedy is make sure you have a good idea of all of your belongings for insurance. He suggests taking a quick video.

He hopes to be back in his home by New Year's Day.