Tupelo, Lee County and Itawamba County today commemorate the first anniversary of an EF-3 tornado that tore a long, damaging path across Northeast Mississippi.
It was not the first major tornado to hit the area, and if weather patterns remain as they are, it won’t be the last one. Every Mississippi community is susceptible to severe, sometimes violent, weather because our state’s climate is wide-ranging and situated where many climate systems collide. In Tupelo’s case, it was the second major tornado to hit the city within 80 years. An early-April tornado in 1936 exacted a painful death toll of more than 200, with more property damage as a percentage of total structures than the April 28, 2014, tornado.
Only one fatality has been attributed to the 2014 tornado.
Even with the relatively limited immediate communications available in 1936 the humanitarian response was fast, but the first responders were Tupelo residents themselves.
The same was true in 2014, followed by a huge outpouring of government and private-sector recovery assistance, ongoing in some cases.
The important point today is continuing the recovery that began as soon as the winds stopped blowing in 2014.
Melinda Tidwell, executive director of the United Way of Northeast Mississippi, said last May an estimated 3,000 volunteers already had documented their time when pitching in to help areas hit by the April 28 tornado. That was before thousands of other volunteers came to Tupelo in August for Eight Day of Hope, a faith-based, Mississippi-based relief organization brought additional thousands more in mid-July for a massive effort that made great progress in helping many homeowners repair their residences and resume a sense of normality.
Debris removal, especially in Tupelo, Lee and Itawamba counties, was a massive undertaking because thousands of trees damaged and destroyed laid a debris field everywhere they fell: roads, sidewalks, yards and business areas. Tupelo’s City Council and the boards of supervisors in damaged counties wasted no time in accessing millions of dollars in federal and state assistance with matching funds. By summer’s end remarkable progress had been made in removing debris and storing it safely at a site in rural Lee County.
Starting over with a tree canopy and landscaping is the operative word in several city and county neighborhoods. That kind of work in the volunteer sector is strong, with neighborhood associations marking the event this evening. The strongest affirmation to come from the tornado’s aftermath is a heightened understanding that recovery must be a united effort. Individuals acting alone cannot accomplish what’s needed, but a community acting together builds a road to recovery and improvement.