It has been a week fraught with emotions for many in DeSoto County, from coming to grips with what an early Saturday morning storm with a pair of tornadoes did to their property, to the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
At the same time, the feelings of helplessness and fear have become a steely resolve and determination to move forward and start on the road to recovery.
As usually happens when DeSoto County has to deal with disaster, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, have stepped forward to offer all the help they can, walking side-by-side with the victims of what Mother Nature had inflicted.
Since the winds and storm sirens started blowing around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, many have come forward to start removing broken trees, opening up closed roads, putting tarps on homes void of shingles, and assessing the damage from the EF-1 tornado that struck south of Hernando and the EF-2 tornado invading the Lewisburg community.
One of the two areas in DeSoto County that were hardest hit came from the EF-1 tornado that started in Tate County around Arkabutla Lake’s Hernando Point to end about 3.7 miles south-southeast of Hernando. The second tornado, rated at EF-2, started about 4.3 miles northeast of Hernando and continued to just short of three miles southeast of Olive Branch.
Officials immediately started assessing the damage in the aftermath with everyone, including Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann when he visited the damaged areas Monday, expressing thanks that there were no deaths from the storm, and only two injuries.
“This looks about as bad a storm as I’ve seen in my lifetime here in DeSoto County,” said Board of Supervisors President Jesse Medlin of Olive Branch.
National Weather Service officials last weekend were out assessing the damage before they rated the storms and declared them to officially be considered as tornadoes.
County officials, Hosemann, and state emergency representatives started to tour the damage on Monday. That afternoon, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) came out with a report that said 210 homes were damaged in the county. About 400 tarps had been deployed to cover homes that lost roofing material. Five pair of disaster reservists and a debris specialist were surveying the aftermath and four pallets of water were distributed.
DeSoto County officials declared a state of emergency after the storms left the region and the state of Mississippi followed with its own emergency declaration. Both declarations pave the way for additional assistance.
Hosemann, speaking to reporters Monday morning, said the most important figure now comes in a dollar threshold to be eligible for a federal disaster declaration.
“We need to exceed $619,000 (in damage) here in DeSoto County,” Hosemann said. “When all of that is added up, I will be surprised if we don’t break that figure.”
Hosemann prefaced that remark, saying the dollar figure has to come from damage that is not covered by insurance.
Statewide, about $4.5 million in damages must be documented for Mississippi to be declared a disaster area from the storms.
Supervisors met for an executive session early Monday morning and decided that permit fees would be waived for those rebuilding from the tornadoes. Temporary policies were also approved about rubbish removal and burn permits, which will still be needed for burning debris. Detailed information is available on the official county website at desotocountyms.gov.
A county burn pit was being sought by supervisors for residents to bring items that needed to be burned to one location.
Tuesday, County Environmental Services Director Ray Laughter announced dumpsters had been placed at Lewisburg Primary School and at the Love Fire Department for residents who lost perishables or ruined food after losing electricity from the storm. They are being serviced on a daily basis, Laughter said.
As the clean up is underway, victims of storm are welcoming assistance from elsewhere in the county and outside of the county. Hosemann said it is that spirit that embodies what Mississippi is all about.
“Our nonprofits and our faith-based communities fill a huge gap for us,” Hosemann pointed out. “The state can’t do it all and we don’t have the manpower to do it all. But, we see so many people helping so many people that they don’t even know. I think it’s indicative of how Mississippi operates as a whole.”
A team from the faith-based organization Samaritan’s Purse hit the ground to assist on Tuesday, “for as long as it takes,” said Regional Program Manager for U.S. Disaster Relief Shannon Daley. Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization that provides aid to people in need. It is led by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Daley said up to 50 volunteers a day were to be in the area to work through the damage. They are being housed by Southaven’s Cornerstone Church while in the area.
“In particular, we’re assisting people with cleaning up after the storm, specifically helping those people who don’t have the means or the ability to do it themselves,” said Daley. “We’ll stay here until we’re comfortable that all of those needs have been met.”
Daley said their work includes chainsaw work, cutting up trees and limbs, and getting material out to the curb for the county to remove.
Other church groups have mobilized in the affected areas to assist. The Memphis Hustle collected donations from fans who attended Monday’s game at the Landers Center against Santa Cruz.
State Rep. Dan Eubanks (R-Walls) was with a group from what is called the Citizens Militia of Mississippi out helping in the clean up.
“My heart is warmed beyond measure by having witnessed so many folks stepping up to help others they don’t even know and may never see again,” Eubanks said.
That particular group had people coming in from Tate, Carroll, Rankin and Covington counties, in addition to DeSoto County. They were out in those parts near Hernando damaged by the storm.
The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi announced it had activated a DeSoto Disaster Fund to receive donations by check, credit card online at CFNM.org, or by phone call to the Foundation at 662-449-5002. A community-based recovery committee will determine where to make grants from the fund.
After flooding in 2005 affected parts of Southaven, several donors established an endowment for DeSoto Disasters. The Community Foundation will look to the community-based recovery committee to decide where to disburse the spendable amount of this permanent endowment, as well.
A woman who has likely seen a lot of storms in her 93 years of life is Gladys Allison of Lewisburg. A GoFundMe page was set up by her grandson Jerry Peak, after Allison lost her home to the storms. Allison lives on social security and she has no homeowners insurance, Peak said on the page.
One unfortunate consequence from the outpouring of support has been in those who want to take advantage of others’ charity.
The Lewisburg Volunteer Fire Department, which has stored donated items for victims, has found that people outside the area have also come to collect for free. The department is now requiring identification before releasing material to the public to make sure they go to tornado victims only.
It will be some weeks and months before normalcy can begin in the wake of last weekend’s tornadoes, but the process has begun and DeSoto County has again shown it will do what it can to aid those in need.
Writer Mike Lee contributed to this article.