Officials discuss storm damage

Monday morning, Jan. 13, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (left) and DeSoto County Board of Supervisors President Jesse Medlin discussed with reporters the county’s damage assessments in the wake of the previous Saturday morning tornadoes that came through the county. Local and state emergency declarations have been made and it is possible the dollar damage total may exceed the threshold needed for a federal disaster declaration to be made.

DeSoto County residents in the path of what has been officially determined to be two tornadoes in the county Saturday morning were spending the weekend cleaning up and starting the rebuilding process.

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann Monday, Jan. 13 toured the areas that in particular were struck by the tornadoes; the Lewisburg and Love community areas.

Hosemann met with reporters in the Board of Supervisors board room Monday morning as part of his visit and gave the initial numbers on homes damaged by the storm.

“In DeSoto County, we have 11 homes destroyed, 52 homes with major damage, and 97 homes with minor damage,” said Hosemann. “Other homes affected by the storms total 50, so the total number of homes affected is about 200.”

As part of the post-storm assessment is now determining the damage in dollars. Hosemann said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) had personnel touring the damage to get an accurate dollar estimate on damage. Supervisor Michael Lee added those people have identification and are serving a positive purpose, so they should be allowed on property to make their assessments.

Monday afternoon, MEMA updated the damage figures in the county with 210 homes damaged and five roads closed. It reported that 400 tarps had been deployed in DeSoto County along with five teams of two disaster reservists each and a debris specialist. Four pallets of water had been distributed.

The National Weather Service Monday morning reported its initial finding of the storms that crossed through DeSoto County.

The first of two reported tornadoes was rated an EF-1 storm with an estimated wind peak of 100 miles per hour, was 200 yards wide, and traveled 11.3 miles. That was the tornado that started in Tate County and ended about 3.7 miles south-southeast of Hernando at about 4:50 a.m.

According to the NWS, the tornado initially damaged trees near the Arkabutla community, crossed Arkabutla Lake and then damaged trees and sheds at Hernando Point. Additional tree and roof damage took place as it neared U.S. Highway 51. Residences and storage buildings were damaged when the tornado crossed Highway 51 and headed toward I-55. Strong straight line winds caused additional damage to homes and trees south of the tornado track.

The second tornado was rated an EF-2 storm by the NWS with an estimated peak wind gust of 120 miles per hour. It traveled 8.25 miles, was 300 yards wide, and started 4.3 miles northeast of Hernando and ended 2.7 miles south-southeast of Olive Branch at just after 5 a.m.

That storm started just south of I-269 northeast of Hernando with initial tree damage as it crossed the interstate. As it continued across Craft Road, the tornado intensified, heavily damaged a horse stable and a large metal storage building. Numerous homes were damaged as it entered residential areas east of Craft Road and some sustained substantial damage. It eventually dissipated as the tornado approached the intersection of Bethel Road and I-22/U.S. Highway 78. Strong straight line winds again caused additional damage south of the tornado track, the NWS reported.

While the county and state have both made an emergency declaration, getting the dollar assessment will help determine if federal aid will be able to assist in the restoration with a federal declaration.

“We need to exceed $619,000 (in damage) here,” Lt. Gov. Hosemann said. “If your home is insured, even though it was totally destroyed, we can’t count that. If there’s a gap in coverage, we will be able to count that, so we’re seeing those homes that weren’t insured at all. When all of that is added up, I will be very surprised if we don’t break the $619,000 figure here.”

Statewide, about $4.5 million in damage must be achieved for Mississippi to get a federal disaster declaration as a state. Hosemann said he expected that will be determined before the week is out.

Officials praised the response of residents and county employees in the clean up, in donations, and in helping those affected by the storms.

“Our nonprofits and our faith-based communities fill a huge gap for us,” said Hosemann. “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 really don’t even know. I think that’s indicative of how Mississippi operates as a whole.”

County officials held an early-morning executive session ahead of the news briefing and made some decisions they hope would assist residents in their recovery.

“We’ve waived permit fees for people that are rebuilding,” said Supervisor Mark Gardner. “If you have limbs or vegetative growth that you want to burn, we’re going to waive some of those restrictions, but you still have to call our emergency administrative people.”

Gardner added the county is looking at a burn pit to take items. The county will also waive the number of allowable trips people in the affected areas may make the county rubbish pit.

Medlin said Saturday’s storm was about as strong a storm as he could remember in his many years in DeSoto County.

“This looks about as bad a storm as I’ve seen in my lifetime here in DeSoto County,” Medlin reflected. “It looks like more damage than I have ever seen, including ice storms.”

DeSoto County officials said updated information is available on a daily website from the county's official website.  

The American Red Cross announced it has set up a post in the Hernando Hampton Inn where people could have questions answered about financial aid and other issues the Red Cross can assist with. Representatives were to be there between 2-6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday afternoon.  

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