By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Residents of the Park Hill neighborhood in the North Green Street area joined Tupelo city officials Monday night for praise, thankfulness and information in a church near homes a destructive tornado ripped through a week earlier.
A hundred or so residents filled pews of Lane Chapel CME Church on North Madison Street for discussions with Mayor Jason Shelton, City Council President Nettie Davis and other city leaders related to tornado recovery.
Like many Sunday mornings, the gathering started with singers standing in the choir area, energizing the crowd.
“Isn’t it great to still be alive?” Davis said.
“Glory!” a few people shouted.
Standing in the front of the church sanctuary, city officials thanked the Lord before detailing city efforts to assist residents immediately after the tornado and discussing on-going recovery plans.
“I can think of no other explanation than the miracles of the Lord that nobody else was injured,” Shelton said.
The praise didn’t stop with thanks for divine protection from a natural disaster. The mayor listed damaged houses, downed power lines and piles of debris and then recognized national support from Washington, D.C.
“When the city of Tupelo needed President Barack Obama and the federal government, they were there for us,” said Shelton, who attended the president’s first inauguration.
Obama signed a federal disaster declaration last week for Lee, Itawamba and several other Mississippi counties within hours of a request from Gov. Phil Bryant last week.
Park Hill residents recalled how thankful they felt for each other hours and days after the tornado’s 150 mph winds whirled through their neighborhood, how they helped each other out during a time of deep vulnerability.
“Everybody reached out to help,” said Janine Walker, a resident of Debro Street. “It makes people feel like they’re somebody.”
Residents heard city leaders say what they already knew – tornado recovery will take a long time.
As Federal Emergency Management Agency workers settle into the city, the claims process for damaged property has just begun.
City leaders have started to talk about a recovery time frame of three to five years.
“We’ll continue to be here for you as this is going to be a long process,” said Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker. “And you’re going to need some patience.”
As residents nodded their heads, they already felt gratitude to public safety officers who made them feel safe during recent nights without electricity.
“It was some very dark nights but I felt very safe knowing they were out there,” said Shena Hoskins.