Focus shifts to recovery contracts

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news_inthenews_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo and Lee County officials on Monday completed necessary paperwork and approvals to contract with private companies to aid recovery from the most destructive tornado the community has experienced in nearly 80 years.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to seek proposals for debris pickup along the right-of-way in unincorporated parts of the county, for monitoring of the process and for technical assistance related to federal requirements for reimbursements of local tax dollars spent for tornado recovery.

President Barack Obama designated the county as a disaster area on Wednesday along with other Mississippi counties severely impacted by 18 tornadoes in a single day. Only one weather-related death resulted in Lee County, but the area suffered millions of dollars in residential and commercial property damage.

Board of Supervisors President Darrell Rankin said local emergency operations weren’t perfect but came through during all important times. He said minor issues like better coordination can be addressed.

“The strength of our team is how we overcame those glitches,” Rankin said.

County Administrator Sean Thompson said the board will plan to meet each morning this week until disaster recovery-related contracts are approved. Tupelo officials worked on finalizing similarrequests for proposals late into the day and anticipate formally approving a contract today.

Many residents wait for widespread debris removal along streets and roads where trees used to stand strong and tall but now wait in cut pieces to be hauled away.

Roughly 2,500 volunteers spent the weekend in the city and county cutting fallen trees into smaller parts and moving them to the curb for contracted crews to likely begin pickup this week.

The United Way of Northeast Mississippi coordinated volunteer efforts throughout affected neighborhoods in need of assistance.

Altogether, Tupelo and Lee County have an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of debris in need of removal.

“It could be more,” said Lee County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Lee Bowdry, “but it ain’t going to be any less.”

The city and county will use private companies to serve as project managers for tornado recovery, allowing many local public workers to continue expected day-to-day services.

While Tupelo leaders didn’t offer specific numbers Monday, the number of residents without electricity continues to diminish daily.

“We’re at the point where anyone who can take power has it available,” said Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis.

In the county, Tombigbee Electric Power Association has reported all residents and businesses that can safely reconnect now have electricity.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com