Governmental bodies across the county addressed a number of points last week related to a severe weather outbreak April 13 and 14 that claimed one life, spawned two tornadoes, left numerous homes damaged or destroyed and caused several injuries, isolated flooding and widespread damage.
The Monroe County Board of Supervisors approved an emergency declaration April 16 during a special-called meeting. It also passed a resolution validating Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing of a state of emergency for the county. Even though county officials have spoken with state and national delegates to stress the need for help, what aid is available ultimately falls on the federal government.
Columbus was struck by a deadly EF-3 tornado Feb. 23, and no federal declaration has been declared as of yet.
“The governor said yesterday that FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] is requiring now for counties to pay on the front end to be reimbursed, which we’ll be looking at a very significant number,” said county road manager Sonny Clay, adding county officials have spoken with representatives of national congressional leaders. “They all said they’d see what they could do. Again, politics are politics, and the first thing they’ve got to do is get the president to sign a declaration. That’s first and foremost.”
He said the purpose of last week’s meeting was to discuss debris removal and he suggested having requests for proposals for the service ahead of any federal declaration.
Supervisors agreed to have Debris Tech of Picayune assess debris throughout the county to get an idea of how much there is. Monroe County Fire Coordinator Terry Tucker estimated each property in the path of the tornadoes has enough debris to fill a boom truck.
Supervisors questioned numerous approaches to best deal with debris, asking if it’s better to chip trees and approach local pellet companies or to just haul it off.
Clay said the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality will not issue burn permits for the debris.
“People are calling now, and we’re telling them to put it at the road. We’re telling people personally, it will be a minimum of four to six weeks, and that’s fine when we tell them. Next week and week after next when they try to cut their yard, and their ditch is filled up because of debris, they’re going to start hollering. We know this,” Clay said.
The recent storms come on the heels of continued discussion for the dire need for additional property at the Monroe County Landfill. Following an executive session, supervisors agreed to accept a proposal from Weyerhaeuser to purchase an undetermined amount of land that could be in excess of 50 acres.
District 1 Supervisor Joseph Richardson asked about the availability for storm shelters for homeowners, but a program for individuals ended in 2011.
“What I’m hearing today is people say they’d love to have a siren, but, ‘A siren doesn’t do us any good if we don’t have anywhere to go.’ They’d rather listen to [WTVA meteorologist] Matt [Laubhan] tell them when to get in there but they need somewhere to go,” Richardson said.
It was suggested to have the support of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors and state and national leaders to urge the importance of reinstating the program.
“You’ve got a lot of people who are not financially able to come up with this. We, as representatives, if we don’t convey this message to them, we’re failing our people down here,” said District 5 Supervisor Hosea Bogan.
Earlier in open session, Clay said approximately $300,000 worth of road damage was incurred by the storms, and he said the county will ask for a reimbursement.
Tucker asked for an interlocal agreement with the City of Baldwyn, which offered a 2001 fire truck for the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department to use while one of its trucks is repaired from tornado damage.
After the meeting, county emergency management agency director Donna Sanderson said the storm caused significant damage to the storm siren in Splunge. She urges people to rely on TV weather reports, Code RED or weather radio until it is repaired.
Approximately an hour after the supervisors meeting, a number of citizens living downtown affected by floods from the storm pleaded with the Aberdeen Board of Aldermen for help.
Residents complained about waters getting inside their homes due to issues with a city drainage ditch being clogged, resulting in ruined furniture and impending mold. Citizen Leigh Matthews asked if the city has an emergency plan to help with people in need of shelter, but Mayor Maurice Howard said it isn’t being implemented.
“It’s going to have to include an emergency fund. You’ve got someone who is sleeping in their vehicle. You have someone who may need food because all of it is spoiled,” Howard said. “I think it’s time we implement something to where if someone is in distress, I can make a call to a couple of aldermen and ask if it’s okay to issue a check. There’s been too many people affected by house fires and floods who don’t have money for a hotel or food.”
City attorney Bob Faulks said the city and county adopted an emergency plan several administrations ago which gives the mayor authority under some circumstances to provide assistance but not financial assistance.
Faulks recommended for those affected by the floods who think the city was negligent to write a notice of claim to be passed along to the city’s insurance provider, which is proper procedure according to state law.
Answering further questions about how to do so, Ward 5 Alderman Jim Buffington suggested for people to send a letter to the mayor and board of aldermen at City Hall and date it, specifying their names, what the problem is and what they’re requesting as far as help.
Monroe County School Board
The Monroe County School Board approved a paid holiday for employees for April 15 when the district’s schools were closed in the wake of the storm.
“We have two policies in place for emergencies. We will not have to make this day up. We want to work with people caught in a tough situation,” said Monroe County Superintendent of Education Scott Cantrell.
The board was able to ratify a resolution handed down from State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carrie Wright’s office in 2015 to help with disaster relief. There are make-up days remaining in this year’s calendar that would not be convenient for having a regular school day, in Cantrell’s opinion.
“We’ve done this before and we request it again,” he said about the unscheduled paid time off classified as administrative leave per district policy.
Assistant superintendent Kevin Threadgill followed Cantrell’s presentation with an update on closed roads and interrupted power. He reported approximately 1,000 homes were yet without power at the time the April 15 board meeting, and eight to 10 roads used by school buses across the county were impassible due to flooding or wash outs. The utility customers without power included 11 Hamilton teachers.
“Some of the people have wells. When those people have no power, they also have no water,” Cantrell.
No damage beyond a torn sidewalk canopy at Hamilton was reported at any schools in the district.
Discussion during last week’s board of aldermen meeting reflected more of a post-Railroad Festival wrap-up than the severe weather that followed. Mayor Brad Blalock expressed appreciation for the good cooperation among all city departments during the festival, which also suffered setbacks from the storm.
“I heard numerous comments from citizens of the good job done. The bad weather compounded the issues that had to be dealt with,” he said.
The round of storms took a toll on parts of Amory. City clerk Jamie Morgan said storm reports included nine properties damaged by falling trees, seven properties damaged by flooding, four reports of wind damage and a portion of railroad crossties washed out.
While the Smithville Board of Aldermen has not met since the storm, Mayor Earl Wayne Cowley said he has been in communication with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency requesting assistance for residents affected by floods.
“We’re having to wait and see what’s going to happen. We had several people with water in their houses who didn’t have flood insurance,” he said.
Town clerk Kim Johnson added the storm affected Smithville’s rural water plant, and a generator was used to supply water to rural customers.
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HAMILTON – The shining light following a ravaging storm is how much people care for those impacted by its destruction. Last week, several groups and individuals were eager to help with moving debris and providing donations.
“A lot has already been done. A lot of neighbors are helping neighbors,” said Hubert Yates, board president of Mississippi Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which is coordinating volunteer aid. “We have crews from Team Rubicon, which is made up of retired military and first responders, and teams from Mississippi Baptist [Disaster] Relief. We’re anticipating bringing in a couple more teams who will work through the week chainsawing and moving debris.”
Members of the Home Depot Foundation aided not only through on the ground relief efforts in Hamilton and Lackey but also provided $7,500 worth of donations for that area and for those affected by flooding in Aberdeen.
“We have 15 families affected by the floods in Aberdeen, and the Church of Christ [Disaster Relief Effort] from Nashville sent down cleaning supplies, food items, paper towels, paper plates and bleach,” said Latoya Loyd, an Aberdeen resident who works at Home Depot.
Her car was flooded during the storm.
She said the foundation has an emergency grant program, and Monroe County’s disasters were quickly approved.
Yates said last Wednesday Tronox and Walmart also offered assistance.
“Something like this brings out the best of the community. People want to do so much for you, and you’re trying to help them out,” said Jim Price, Team Rubicon deputy director of operations for eight southeastern states. “I can’t tell you how many people tell us to go help somebody who really needs help, and they’ve got 10 trees down in their yard.”
Yates said monetary donations will be a continued need. An account for Hamilton tornado relief has been set up at Ampot Federal Credit Union, located at 40481 Old Hwy 45 in Hamilton.
Anyone wishing to volunteer or anyone affected by the storms in need of volunteer help can call the hotline number at 319-7301.
AMORY – As part of its April 15 meeting, the Monroe County School Board approved salary increases throughout the district for teachers, administrators and bus drivers. Monroe County Superintendent of Education Scott Cantrell said the district has sufficient funds on hand for the pay raises.
“Our budget status is at 66 percent toward [a maximum of] 75 percent, so we’re in good shape,” he said. “Our current tax base is 43 mills out of a maximum 55 possible.”
Local supplement increases were approved for employees paid on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) scale to make the Monroe County School District competitive with nearby districts of a similar size. School board member Chris Markham expressed his disappointment in the state legislator’s lack of support to raise teachers’ pay.
“We need to give our teachers all we can afford to be competitive. Our lawmakers have failed us,” he said.
A memorandum of understanding was approved with Access Family Health Services to continue the Certified Family Nurse Practitioner program on attendance center campuses.
“It’s been a good success for us,” Cantrell said.
School board president Linda Bickerstaff said they efficiently used all available space.
“The partnership with Monroe County schools has been very rewarding,” said Access Family Health Services Executive Director Marilyn Sumerford after the meeting. “One goal of the school-based health center program is to keep students and teachers in the classroom.”
She said the Access team, led by Alisha Houk, FNP, provided services to 775 students and faculty members through 1,418 visits from August to March.
“We are anxious to analyze the data and work with the school health council to see if we have accomplished our objectives. We know that many students without insurance have received timely care that otherwise would have ended up in an emergency department,” Sumerford said.
In other business, Cantrell announced Advanced Learning Center Principal Mechelle Welch tendered her resignation effective at the end of the 2018-19 school year to return to her previous position in West Point.
A contract with Millennium Consulting Service, Inc. was approved to extend the company’s work week from three to five days per week within the district.
“It’s good for them and it’s good for us. We keep getting more technology, which needs more man hours to service and maintain,” Cantrell said.
Among items of business carried over from the March meeting, approval was granted for the district to advertise for a second time for a timber sale on approximately seven acres of district-owned land near the Hamilton Attendance Center. According to Cantrell, plans are to have a band practice field ready by start of school.