Itawamba County begins debris removal

county_itawamba_greenBy Adam Armour

Itawamba County Times

Work on removing debris left in the wake of the April 28 tornado has begun in Itawamba County.

On Friday, clean-up crews with contracted disaster recovery group Looks Great Services Incorporated began removing debris on Oak Grove Road in the Ratliff community, and on Donivan Road in the Ozark Community, both of which were among the hardest hit by the tornado.

The company was hired by the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors early last week. Monitoring – that is, ensuring that the debris removal and disposal process meets the standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – is being handled by ARX Recovery Incorporated, which is also overseeing clean-up in Tupelo and Lee County.

All of the debris is being hauled to a Department of Environmental Quality designated dump site in Saltillo for disposal.

County officials are asking residents in northwest Itawamba County affected by last month’s storms to move any debris to the roadside for pickup. Debris not on the county right-of-way cannot be picked up.

Depending on how quickly the debris is removed, FEMA will reimburse most of the considerable expense – estimated at around $500,000 – that will be accrued during the coming weeks. If the debris is cleared by May 28 – 30 days after the storm hit – FEMA will pay 85 percent of the cost of cleanup. For each month after the initial 30 days has passed, the amount the federal agency will pay decreases by five percent.

Itawamba County Second District Supervisor Cecil “Ike” Johnson, in whose district all of the damage is contained, said the goal is to get everything cleaned up as soon as possible.

“We’re trying to help people get back to normal just as quickly as we can,” he said.

Cleanup work following a major disaster is typically handled by a third-party group. Most counties – and Itawamba is no exception — don’t have the necessary equipment needed to lift and haul large amounts of debris.

“The county has nothing to handle this kind of project,” Johnson said. “If we had to clean this up ourselves, it would take months.”

Although debris cleanup is expected to be completed in a few weeks, long-term recovery, which MEMA representatives defined as all victims returning to their homes and resuming normal life, is expected to take upwards of three years.

Most of the debris left in the wake of the tornado, which carved a path through the communities of Centerville, Ratliff and Kirkville, is vegetative in nature (fallen trees and limbs). While a number of homes in these areas were either damaged or destroyed, debris from construction and demolition (C&D) and white goods (electronics, appliances, household items) are minimal.

Emergency management officials say the storm stayed on the ground in Itawamba County between eight and 12 minutes, traveling 45 miles per hour. It took between 48 and 72 hours to clean off the roads following the storm.

adam.armour@journalinc.com