March 12, 2019 10:21:51 AM
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency damage assessors have determined Columbus incurred roughly $9.3 million in damages as a result of the Feb. 23 tornado that came amid a week of flooding.
That number encompasses damages to Sim Scott Park, the Riverwalk and amphitheater, and city streets, Columbus-Lowndes Emergency Management Agency Director Cindy Lawrence reported at a weekly briefing Monday that included representatives with the city, Lowndes County and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, among others.
The $9.3 million damage estimate does not include damage to private property nor costs incurred by Columbus Light and Water. It also does not include estimates for Columbus Municipal School District properties damaged in the storm -- including the old Hunt High School campus on 20th Street North that sustained severe roof and water damage. No CMSD representative attended Monday's briefing.
CMSD board president Jason Spears told The Dispatch Monday afternoon the district's insurance company should complete damage estimates by early next week.
The Lowndes County damage estimate will contribute to that sustained in as many as 45 counties (mostly from flooding), and submitted to state, then federal, sources for an emergency declaration.
According to a Federal Emergency Management Agency press release sent Monday, FEMA officials expect Lowndes County to receive government aid for the repair and replacement of public facilities, as well as aid to assist residents in rebuilding or repairing their homes. There is no state funding available for individuals.
During the EMA briefing Monday, Columbus Public Works Director Casey Bush said work crews are still clearing storm debris from streets and roads, and that two roads most affected by the tornado -- Tuscaloosa and Shepherd roads -- are now clear.
United Way Director Renee Sanders said United Way has moved out of the disaster assistance center at the Trotter Convention Center because there has been a sharp downturn in the number of people coming in to volunteer.
"We're still taking calls and accepting volunteers," she said. "But people can just come in to our office and we can direct them."
MEMA and Red Cross workers will continue to be on-hand at the Trotter to accept resident reports of damages to homes or other property. However, Lawrence estimates that the disaster assistance center will be closed by the end of the week.
"(MEMA) only had four people come in on Friday," she said. "So if they're only getting one or two people in, there's no reason we need to occupy the space. We can just give people a number they can call to report damages."
Glenda Buckhalter, director of Columbus' Community Outreach Center, said that residents are still contacting her and asking for supplies and assistance paying for temporary housing. She said she is also working with Sanders to coordinate volunteer needs.
North Mississippi Red Cross Executive Director John Brown said Red Cross caseworkers are working on 70 cases of families whose homes are "majorly destroyed." The Red Cross is no longer providing free meals or shelters in Columbus.
"Right now, we're trying to give financial assistance based on need for individual families," Brown said. "There's only a certain amount of assistance we can provide per family and per person. We're trying to do as much as we can for people with that."
Until FEMA and MEMA determine whether Columbus will receive government assistance, there isn't much else by way of assistance for those displaced by the tornado or flood damage. Buckhalter said she is trying to put people in hotels as the COC's funding allows while she tries to connect them with long-term housing.
"We're going to be working with other organizations to make that happen," she said. "But in the meantime, we're providing support where we can, just like all the other organizations here."
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