Jerry White

DeSoto County School District Physical Plant Director Jerry White described the preparations for and response of the Jan. 11 storms that produced two tornadoes and damaged schools and school property. White reported during the Jan. 16 DCS Board meeting in Hernando.  

DeSoto County Emergency Services this week released an update on damage figures from the Jan. 11 tornadoes that struck the county. 

The numbers, according to the Emergency Operations Center, had 543 residences damaged from the storms. Of that total, 21 were destroyed and 28 sustained major damage. A total of 181 homes had minor damage and 313 others were affected in some way by the weather that Saturday morning.

On the commercial side, a total of 18 were touched in some way from the storms and tornadoes. Four were destroyed and two sustained major damage. Ten others had minor damage and two other commercial buildings were in some way affected.

Those numbers will likely continue to increase as assessments are done in the areas south of Hernando and in the Lewisburg community.

Residents still in need are asked to contact the EOC at 662-469-8919 (daily from 7am-5pm), or by email at storminfo@desotocounts.gov. You are asked to include your name, address, phone number, and specific needs such as tarps, tree removal, food, water.

Some of the damage on Saturday, Jan. 11 was to school buildings in Lewisburg and Olive Branch, in particular. DeSoto County Schools officials gave the school board an update on the damage during the board’s meeting on Thursday, Jan. 16 at Central Services in Hernando.

“We had five schools damaged to some degree,” said Physical Plant Director Jerry White. “Pleasant Hill Elementary, Center Hill Elementary, and Lewisburg Elementary were the ones that had the least amount of damage. Lewisburg High and Olive Branch Elementary had the most damage. It’s fortunate we didn’t have more damage.”

Supt. Cory Uselton said a plan was put in place on Friday before the storms hit to respond, with the belief that severe weather may occur.  

“We were not expecting what we saw on Saturday morning throughout our county,” Uselton said. “All four Lewisburg schools were without power all day Saturday and we had to get those schools back up and running to ensure that they would have heat for school on Monday.”

White said the storm shelter roof at Olive Branch Elementary sustained damage but the shelter’s safety was not compromised.

“On these storm shelters, they put in a concrete slab in case something like this happens,” White explained. “It was very safe on the inside. The main thing is we have got to move rapidly to put a roof on this thing before another wind event.”

To do that, board members voted in favor of a recommendation to declare an emergency. The move would allow the district to quickly address emergency repairs, said Board Attorney Jim Keith.

“Typically when we do repair and restoration work we bid that out,” Keith told the board. “But unfortunately, we don’t have time to do that and our state law allows us to declare an emergency and we do not need to have the delay of having to bid the work out over a period of time. The roof work on the FEMA building at the Olive Branch school, we can’t wait to get that done. Also the baseball complex in Lewisburg.”

Uselton also reported to the board that school attendance was not adversely affected on Monday after the storm, even though absences would be excused for students in the affected Hernando and Lewisburg school zones.

“On Monday, the first day for school, we had attendance numbers consistent with what we have in DeSoto County,” said Uselton. “Even on Monday we were very fortunate to have that many students that attended school that day. We were glad to see those students make it and see that they were able to get back into a regular routine.”

Dollar amounts on the damage were not immediately available.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.