Committee steers Chickasaw County recovery

By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal

HOUSTON – Like other areas of Northeast Mississippi, Chickasaw County was stunned by the April 27 tornadoes that raked the county.
Emergency aid from local, state and federal agencies poured into the area within hours, helped many for weeks on end, and then quietly moved on to the next disaster. But the Long-Term Recovery Committee stayed busy.
The LTRC was formed just a few days after a tornado smashed Trebloc at 3 a.m. that fateful Wednesday and another storm blew through that afternoon to wreck, Atlanta, Anchor, Buena Vista and Okolona.
“The folks from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) told us early on they would be here a certain length of time and then would leave,” said the Rev. Randy Rinehart, co-chairman of the LTRC. “They urged us to form this organization at the local level to help these people over the long haul.”
The organization initially was created to cover five counties. Volunteers from each county quickly realized that was too big an area.
“Who better to determine our needs than local people,” said Rinehart. “FEMA gave us some ideas and we held a general meeting. At that meeting we elected a board and officers, adopted bylaws and started evaluating needs.”
The initial assessment estimated more than $2 million in damages. Four people were killed in Chickasaw County. Hundreds of houses were damaged and without power.
“The state and federal agencies came in and did their job and volunteers came in from all over the state and even the country,” said Rinehart. “But at some point that help came to an end.”
It was at that point the LTRC blossomed.
“The goal from the beginning was to come alongside these people who had lost so much and stick with them through this process,” said Rinehart. “And we had a lot of people who either didn’t realize how bad their property had been damaged or just didn’t know how to get help to fix their house.”

THE DARKEST DAY
- ONE YEAR LATER -
The LTRC would assist in bringing a Mennonite construction team to Chickasaw County and they stayed three months. Rinehart said they were skilled workers and operated on a shoestring budget.
By this time the weather was cold.
“We said we wanted people dry and warm,” said Rinehart. “That meant we fixed a lot of roofs and repaired a lot of windows.”
LTRC criteria screened all applicants and ranked each on their need. The board continued to solicit local volunteers to help with needs such as debris removal and cleanup.
Rinehart pointed out many homeowners didn’t have insurance and were living under the radar in some of the furthest reaches of Chickasaw County.
“We helped people in places that even longtime community members didn’t know existed,” said Rinehart. “We had to build trust, wrap our arms around those people and tell them we loved them, find out what they needed and then we went to work.”

‘Who better to determine our needs than local people.’ the Rev. Randy Rinehart co-chairman of the LTRC
The LTRC was able to help 13 families with major repairs and another seven with minor jobs and projects. And they did it on a budget of $60,000.

“And as far as I know all needs were met,” said Rinehart. “Yes, there are things that still need to be done, but everybody is warm and dry.”
The LTRC board of directors will hold its last formal meeting April 30.
“We are standing down, but we are not disbanding,” said Rinehart. “We hope we never have to go through this again, but if we do, there will be a group of people who are ready to help this community from beginning to end.”
floyd.ingram@journalinc.com