By Dennis Seid
SALTILLO – Under a 5-acre hill lie millions of pounds of debris from the April 28 tornado.
The remains of homes, businesses and buildings mixed with vegetative material – like trees and limbs – are in the pile that measures up to 50 feet high.
Bulldozers and excavators are at work more than 12 hours a day, unloading debris, shifting it around, then covering it.
“At its peak, we had three contractors and 36 trucks working,” said Tim May, the owner of TMCO Rubbish Site where the debris is taken. “Now it’s down to 18 trucks. But it did get really hectic, especially with all the rain we had this month.”
But the landfill never closed due to the weather. May, who opened the site 20 years ago next month, said he’s brought in more than 70 loads of stone to put on the roads leading into TMCO.
The stone kept the large trucks and equipment from getting stuck in the mud, which would have delayed debris removal.
Most of the debris has come from Tupelo, but it’s also arriving from Lee County and Itawamba County.
And the amount of debris collected so far is staggering.
Through Monday, more than 7,800 loads have been delivered to the site. That amounts to more than 361,000 cubic yards of material.
Officials originally estimated about 245,000 cubic yards of debris would be collected, but the city of Tupelo has had more than 201,000 cubic yards removed so far.
“We’re still getting debris daily,” May said. “Sometimes there’s a lull where we don’t see a truck for a while, then they’ll be lined up one after the other.”
The trucks are stopped and visually inspected by officials who determine the percentage of debris in each truck.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency makes payments to the cities or contractors based on the percentage.
“For the first 30 days, FEMA pays 85 percent of the cost,” May said. “After that it pays 80 percent over the next 30 days. After that it pays 75 percent.”
The small mountain of debris at TMCO isn’t all tornado-related. May said rubbish from his company’s other customers through the years serves as the base for the tornado debris pile.
“It’s not all from the tornado; most of it is,” he said.
The bulldozers are used to push debris around, while the excavators are more precise, moving specific pieces of debris around, filling in holes and gaps in the pile.
“Can you imagine how much dirt that would have to be used to fill and cover that as it slipped through all the holes?” May said. “We’re required to cover the debris with dirt, and if we didn’t fill in those gaps, it would take a lot more. The bulldozers are an asset; the excavators are a necessity.”
May isn’t sure how much more debris will arrive from the three areas, but he expects the number of loads to reach at least 9,000.
The city of Tupelo said the current round of removal will wrap up around June 28 and resume July 14.