TUPELO • Under sunny Tuesday skies, residents across Lee and Itawamba counties began clearing debris and salvaging possessions after two tornadoes touched down during fierce Monday night storms.
North Tupelo neighborhoods, McCullough Boulevard businesses and Generations Assisted Living on Old Saltillo Road reported the most concentrated damage from the 11:30 p.m. storm.
“We are very fortunate to be spared loss of life,” said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton.
Initial damage assessments found four to five houses were destroyed and dozens more damaged in Tupelo, Shelton said. Between five and 10 commercial properties were impacted. The damage will top $1 million, he said. By the end of the day Tuesday, power had largely been restored to homes and businesses that were impacted.
A separate tornado passed the Ozark, Houston and Kirkville communities in Itawamba County, downing large trees along Highway 371 and destroying a work shed in the Ozark community. No significant injuries were reported.
A National Weather Service survey team confirmed both the Lee County and Itawamba County tornadoes rated at least an EF1 on the tornado severity scale. The paths of both tornadoes closely tracked the April 2014 storms, although damage was not as widespread.
“We are very fortunate compared to what we had the last time,” said Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson.
In Tupelo, the path of Monday’s storm moved northeast from Charleston Gardens, Butler Road and Colonial Estates in West Tupelo. It passed just north of the Tupelo Buffalo Park then moved onto McCullough Boulevard. It passed through Lakeshire Drive, Parc Monceau, Allyson Drive and Old Towne Circle. It crossed over the southern end of the Barnes Crossing retail area and headed east toward Old Saltillo Road, where it dealt significant damage to Generations Assisted Living, which is located just outside of the city limits.
Already neighbors, community groups and church groups were organizing to help those affected by the storm. The Red Cross had a shelter open at the BancorpSouth Arena for about 10 hours Tuesday morning and helped 12 people who needed assistance.
“I think we’ll see the same Tupelo spirit shine, and we will be stronger in the end,” Shelton said.
Roof flew off
Courtney Liggins had more than 100 unread text message on her phone Tuesday morning as she and her husband, Cal, stood outside what was left of their Fair Oaks Drive house in the hard-hit Colonial Estates neighborhood. It sustained substantial damage, with the roof and walls of the home gone. They were going through and grabbing clothes from the closets and seeing what else they could salvage from the debris.
Liggins said last night was the first night she had slept in bed. She had been sleeping on the couch in the living room for the past few nights because of a sinus infection. The living room walls are gone, and the couch is now in what is left of the kitchen.
“My husband watched the roof fly off,” said Liggins.
The community has rallied around the residents and staff of Generations since the tornado took chunks out of the assisted living center’s roof.
“There has been such an outpouring,” said Scott Floyd, who owns the center with wife, Emily Floyd.
The residents came through the storm safely. Off duty staff along with volunteer firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol officers and ambulance crews converged on Generations in the aftermath of the storm.
Because the Generations van was in the shop, emergency responders helped to mobilize transportation. Saltillo First Methodist Church opened its fellowship hall so that the Generations residents could have a safe, dry place to reunite with families and regroup, Floyd said.
The Generations staff has taken over the floor of a local hotel and is caring for the residents who didn’t decide to stay with family in the aftermath of the storm, Floyd said. The plan is to stay in the hotel until the damages are repaired.
Both the Tupelo City Council and Lee County Board of Supervisors issued disaster declarations smoothing emergency response and assessment. In the coming days, crews will complete a more thorough assessment to see if the damage meets the threshold for state or federal disaster declarations. Mississippi Emergency Management officials were in Lee and Itawamba counties making assessments on Tuesday.
Shelton encouraged home and business owners to make sure they thoroughly document damage as they begin the clean-up process. They are working with United Way to help coordinate volunteer response.
The Daily Journal’s W. Derek Russell, Lauren Wood and Caleb Bedillion contributed to this report.