More storm sirens urged for Tupelo

TUPELO – The site of one of the country’s deadliest tornados has insufficient siren coverage, and city officials want to remedy that.
Tupelo’s seven emergency sirens warn of approaching twisters, but their sound doesn’t reach people in the city’s outer limits. Areas in north, west and south Tupelo that were annexed 20 years ago never got their own horns.
Although people in outlying areas might hear the faint scream from one of the inner-city sirens, the best hearing occurs within a one-mile radius of the devices.
“Sometimes I hear the sirens at my house, sometimes I don’t,” said City Councilman Willie Jennings, who represents Ward 7 where large swaths of land have no coverage.
Also lacking sirens is Ward 1, where Councilman Markel Whittington said he’d like to get several horns in his district.
Most of the region’s twisters occur between March and May. It was in April of 1936 that the nation’s fourth-deadliest hit Tupelo, killing more than 230 people. Another brief tornado season occurs in the fall.
Neither Jennings nor Whittington said he had heard complaints from constituents about the city’s warning signals. But both support a recommendation by Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons for extra sirens.
Timmons said the city needs eight more horns – one in the Barnes Crossing area, one near Old Town Circle, one in Belden, one near the Buffalo Park, one near Haven Acres, one near Ballard Park and one off Southern Heights Road.
The city applied two years ago for a grant from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency that would have covered the new sirens as well as upgrades for the existing seven. But so many other Mississippi communities had also applied that the agency ran out of money, Timmons said.
The grant is no longer available.
Now the city might have to fund the improvements. The 2007 estimate for everything was $210,349. Timmons said that figure likely has increased since then.
“This would be something the new council could look at to budget as a capital fund project this year,” Timmons said.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and the members of council were sworn in earlier this month and soon will start putting together the municipality’s budget for the 2010 fiscal year. It takes effect Oct. 1.
Reed was not immediately available for comment, but Chief Finance Officer Kim Hanna said no one yet has made a budget request for sirens. If such a request is to be made, she said, the time to do it is now.
In the meantime, residents outside the sirens’ range must rely on television and radio to inform them of an approaching tornado.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com. Also read Emily’s blog, The Government Grind, at NEMS360.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal