By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

As emergency crews began providing additional assistance to victims in the tornado-torn counties of Pontotoc and Union, residents in other areas keep a watchful eye on rising creeks and rivers.

The American Red Cross has set up emergency shelters for people in need of assistance after tornadoes damaged Pontotoc County's Randolph community and Union County's Martintown community Saturday morning.

The Red Cross has provided 150 meals for victims and will continue to do so through Wednesday.

Service centers have been opened by the Red Cross and communities to provide victims with "the means to purchase items they need the most, such as groceries, new clothing, temporary housing, emergency home repairs, basic household items, prescription medicines and other medical supplies," said Leslie Posey, executive director for the American Red Cross Northeast Mississippi Chapter.

"All Red Cross disaster relief is provided free of charge," she said. "People applying for assistance need to bring some form of information that shows their address as proof they live in the affected areas."

Damage assessments

The storms that ripped through Pontotoc and Union counties killed a Randolph community man, injured at least 21 people and damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings.

Posey said 91 homes were damaged in the two tornadoes. Of that number, 31 were destroyed, 18 suffered major damage and 42 received minor damage, she said. This estimate did not include businesses.

Clif Lusk, public relations director for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said Gov. Kirk Fordice has declared the area a state of emergency but said he was not sure if the Federal Emergency Management Agency would issue a presidential declaration for the area. A representative with the Small Business Administration, which provides assistance to businesses and individuals, will be in Pontotoc and Union counties Wednesday to assess the damage, Lusk said.

State Insurance Commissioner George Dale said one insurance company that has handled about 80 of the total claims in both counties estimated damage at $1 million as of Monday.

Dale said residents in the affected areas should cover damaged buildings to prevent further damage and contact a local agent. If victims are unable to get in touch with an agent, they should call his office for further assistance at 1-800-562-2957.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Memphis visited the area Sunday to gather damage information. Meteorologist Rick Smith said the team determined that the tornado that struck the Pontotoc area at about 1:30 a.m. was ranked an F1, which means the winds of the tornado ranged from 73 to 112 mph.

This tornado had a path length of about six miles and was about 400 yards wide.

The tornado that struck the Martintown community at 4 a.m. was ranked an F3 and had winds that ranged from 158 to 206 mph. The tornado had a path length of about three miles and ranged in width from 25 yards to 400 yards.

The strongest tornado on the Fujita scale is an F5, which has winds between 261 to 318 mph. An F5 tornado struck Tupelo on April 5, 1936, killing 225 people.

Rising waters

Smith said the line of storms that hit Northeast Mississippi Sunday dumped record-breaking rainfall totals for that day. For a 24-hour period beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday, 4.85 inches of rain fell in Tupelo. The record for that day was set at 3.21 inches in 1960. Total rainfall for the year is 15.64 inches.

The total rainfall for March is 4.86 inches. The normal monthly rainfall total is 6.07 inches.

Because of excessive rainfall, flooding conditions are occurring in many states in the South, including Mississippi. Three deaths were reported in Tennessee Sunday because of flooding, including one death in Memphis, Smith said.

Rain caused flooding conditions for several businesses in Tupelo, including a golf shop along U.S. Highway 45 near Barnes Crossing Road.

Several creeks and rivers in Northeast Mississippi were expected to reach flood stage this week. Town Creek, which runs through Lee County, was expected to crest at flood stage, which is 21 feet, Monday afternoon.

Tombigbee River was expected to crest today at 28 feet, which is 8 feet above flood stage, said Buzz Merchlewitz, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Memphis. The same river, which runs parallel to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, was expected to crest at 15 feet, two feet above flood stage, on Thursday.

"Most of the flooding will occur in agriculture areas," Merchlewitz said.

More rain is predicted for today, mainly in the afternoon and evening hours with a chance of thunderstorms.

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