TUPELO • The Lee County Board of Supervisors on Monday unanimously approved a proclamation declaring the existence of a local emergency in the county in response to damage caused by thunderstorms and straight line winds over the weekend.
Bill Benson, the interim county administrator, told the Daily Journal the proclamation should speed recovery efforts and can be used to bypass some of the state’s bidding laws so the county can purchase equipment or quickly contract with companies to haul off debris.
“If a fallen tree is on the road and partly on private property, county officials can now get on to private property to remove it,” Benson said.
Benson clarified that county officials cannot simply go onto private property to clean up debris that is exclusively on private property. Benson said this proclamation states that the debris must be partially on public property, like a county road. Benson said residents should push debris near the road if they want something picked up by the county.
The supervisors offered different ideas about how the county should proceed with cleanup efforts.
District 2 Supervisor Mike Smith suggested that the county should rent equipment and trucks from vendors for county officials to use in the cleanup process. District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan suggested that the county should look into hiring a contractor to speed up cleanup efforts.
“Companies are just better equipped and more experienced,” Morgan told the Daily Journal. “I’d just rather go this route than the county trying to do this.”
Several questions were raised about the bidding process related to contracting the cleanup efforts, but Lee County Emergency Management Director Lee Bowdry told the board members that there is already a process in place to avoid a long-term bidding process and the county has legally pre-screened potential companies to hire for debris removal.
“We did a debris plan in case a tornado happened,” Bowdry said. “We predetermined some of the companies we could use.”
Bowdry told the Daily Journal after the meeting that the county is still in the process of assessing its damage. He said he and other officials started conducting an initial assessment of the damage on Monday morning, and would likely finish the assessment by Monday evening.
Bowdry said after he completes the damage assessment and collects all of the data, he will then deliver it to the board and they will decide how to proceed and if they want to ask for an emergency declaration from the state government.
At the meeting, the board took no action to hire a company and decided to hold off any further action until county officials have completed the damage assessment. The board can decide to enter into a contract agreement with one of the companies at its next meeting on Nov. 4.
Tim Allred, the county’s road manager, told the Daily Journal his department is also still assessing the damages to the county, but most of the roads with the exception of two or three have been cleared of debris.
Most of the supervisors at the meeting said that most of the damage residents incurred in their respective district was roof damages and power outages.
“We were lucky,” District 5 Supervisor Billy Joe Holland said. “We really dodged a bullet. It could have been so much worse, and there were no major injuries.”
The county’s proclamation comes after Mayor Jason Shelton on Saturday signed a proclamation declaring Tupelo a disaster area and after local schools incurred minor damages to district buildings.
As of late afternoon Monday, Tupelo Water & Light announced that power had been restored to all its customers.
Around 1,400 Tombigbee Electric Power Association customers remained without power as of late Monday.
Tombigbee General Manager Bill Long said crews would work until 9 p.m. Monday and resume at 6 a.m. Tuesday, but he anticipated most customers would have power Monday.
Within the city, Tupelo Public Schools suffered no major damage, but there were lots of downed trees and debris to clean up, TPSD director of operations Charles Laney said.
A canopy at Thomas Street Elementary and the greenhouse at Lawndale Elementary were damaged, along with a heater unit blown off of Tupelo High and a fence that was blown over at Rankin Elementary.
Incoming superintendent Coke Magee said no major damage was reported across the Lee County School District.
Part of the fence at Saltillo High’s softball field was knocked over and a few scattered tree limbs and other debris must be cleaned up. Magee said school officials double-checked roofs and buildings across the district to make sure they were still in good shape on Monday morning.
Two Chickasaw County school buses were crushed by a tree and a third bus had its mirrors damaged. Superintendent Betsy Collums said the damage had no effect on school transportation Monday morning because the damaged vehicles were substitute buses.
There’s currently no information available as to how much potential repairs and replacements will cost while the district waits on its insurance company to evaluate the damage.
Several Tupelo businesses decided to give back to the community and help aid in cleanup efforts when the damage left several businesses and residents without power.
During the thunderstorms, power went out at the Kroger on West Main Street. After some 30 minutes, store manager John Blann told customers who had been waiting in line to check out but were unable to do so that their groceries were free.
M&M Heating and Cooling owner Scott Mattox said some of the company’s employees crew were out helping with cleanup from the storm in Tupelo and Saltillo Monday, and volunteered their work to whoever needed them.
Double Barrel Restaurant and Catering sisters and co-owners Eden Murphy and Adrien Cummings have opened their restaurant to those who don’t have electricity.
On Sunday morning, after hearing many were still without power, the business invited via Facebook anyone affected by the storm, “to come in and wash up if you need to, come in just for a glass or water or coffee, charge your phone or use our WiFi.”
“My sister and I are always looking for ways to give back to the community, and when we heard 7,000 people were still without power, we knew we had to do something,” Murphy said. “We weren’t sure what it was, but we knew we had to do something.”
About 20 people took them up on their offer on Sunday. On Mondays, the restaurant is open for breakfast only and isn’t open for lunch, but Murphy and Cummings extended their offer to storm victims.
Robert Scott contributed to this report.