By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In the wake of last week’s killer storms, Lee County will install two new tornado sirens and upgrade 10 others with funds from a recently awarded grant.
The new sirens will go to Mooreville, which currently has no warning system, and Saltillo, which has one. Both those communities experienced large population growths this past decade and need extra protection, said Lee County Emergency Management Director Lee Bowdry.
Upgrades will affect existing sirens in Baldwyn, Nettleton, Plantersville, Shannon and Verona. Upgrades will allow testing of existing sirens from a remote location.
It’s unclear when the new sirens will be installed and when the upgrades will take place.
Bowdry announced the $142,123 grant this week. It’s part of a joint effort between the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency grant and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Lee County also will pay about $7,000 in matching funds.
Although the grant provides much-needed improvements for the county’s storm warning network, it’s a fraction of what originally was requested. Bowdry said the county had applied for enough funds to purchase 46 new sirens.
Lee County currently has 26 sirens scattered throughout its 453-square-mile territory. Most of them are located in or near municipalities where population clusters exist. Tupelo, the county’s largest city, has 15 of them – eight of which were purchased and installed last year.
Those sirens sounded numerous times last week as a dangerous storm system moved through the region. Although Lee County escaped major damage, nearby counties such as Monroe weren’t so lucky; a tornado devastated the town of Smithville and other areas of Northeast Mississippi saw significant destruction as well.
The storms were part of a system that swept the South last week, unleashing dozens of tornados and killing hundreds.
Bowdry said the outbreak might convince FEMA, MEMA or other agencies to make available more grants to beef up local warning systems. The grant was a response to Hurricane Katrina and first made available in 2007, said Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson. Overwhelming response delayed awards by several years, as was the case for Lee County.
Tupelo also had applied for some of the grant money but, after waiting several years, decided to move ahead last year using municipal funds.
“We’re hoping another grant will come through after this disaster that we just had, but right now there’s no more funding,” Bowdry said.