By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – National disaster recovery money finally has started to arrive to cover the city’s debris removal costs from the April 28 tornado.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials approved a $1.39 million check for Tupelo this week to pay a portion of costs from the first 30 days of removing snapped trees, materials from destroyed houses and more.
Money dispersed from FEMA’s disaster relief fund likely will amount to a small fraction of the bundle of cash headed this way, similar to tornado-damaged patches throughout the state.
“It’s a slow process,” said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Legislation signed by Gov. Phil Bryant during a special session after the string of weather-related damage allowed the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to loan municipalities cash FEMA would provide later.
“They did this to expedite it because we need it to pay some of our vendors,” said Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran issued a statement Wednesday saying FEMA had released Tupelo’s first found of money, along with funds for utility repairs in rural areas.
Meridian-based East Mississippi Electric Power Association received just more than $1 million for system upgrades necessary after the tornado.
“These federal grants represent another step in the process to recover from those severe April storms,” Cochran said. “The devastation was significant, but not enough to challenge the resilience of the good people in the path of the storm.”
State taxpayers will cover what FEMA doesn’t, 15 percent, for Tupelo’s early costs of debris removal.
At this point, Lee County hasn’t received any reimbursement for $606,000 of debris removal costs.
Tupelo and Lee County, along with heavily damaged Louisville and Winston County combine for an estimated $45 million in estimated recovery costs. At this point, FEMA has dispersed $5.5 million.
Kim Hanna, Tupelo city clerk and chief financial officer, said Wednesday city officials appreciate resources starting to arrive and looks forward to regularly checking the city’s bank account for “more to follow.”