tornado 3

Insult to injury

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

Rain added insult to injury for Pontotoc and Baldwyn residents Tuesday as they scrambled to save what they could during cleanup efforts following Saturday night’s tornadoes.

Cecil Harrison, director of the Yalobusha County Civil Defense and a member of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and others were out in the communities hardest hit by the tornado assessing damage.

“Victims are really starting to come in now that roofs are starting to leak,” Harrison said. The two days following the storm, which killed five people and injured more than 40 in Pontotoc, were sunny and clear. But rain moved into the area Tuesday morning with predictions of wet weather through Saturday.

Jeff Lustig, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, said there is a 50 percent chance of rain today, Thursday and Friday and a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday. None of the storms are expected to be severe. Highs will be in the 40s and 50s and lows in the 30s and 40s.

As of Monday, 6.13 inches of rain had fallen in the area in February, up 1.79 inches above normal. The yearly total as of Monday is 11.90 inches, which is up 2.67 inches from the normal.

Harrison said the rain is “dampening” efforts to clean up areas hit by the tornado that cut a 23.7-mile path from southwest to northeast across the county. The tornado, which had winds that reached up to 157 miles per hour, was spawned by a storm system that moved through Calhoun County into Pontotoc County, then through Lee County, damaging homes and businesses in Baldwyn before dying out.

Chuck Howell, general manager of the Pontotoc Electric Power Association, said rain also has slowed efforts to connect the remaining 100 residents without power. When the storm hit Saturday night, a Tennessee Valley Authority line that ran from Sherman to Oxford was knocked out, taking three substations with it.

The outage affected 10,000 residents. Howell said within two hours an estimated 5,000 customers had power.

By Sunday morning, the number of those without power had dropped to 3,500. An estimated 1,500 residents were without power Monday and by Tuesday, that number had dropped to 200. Crews worked through soggy conditions and were able to hook up 100 customers.

“We are down to the last 100 homes,” he said.

But getting to those homes may be difficult because of the rain. “The ground is too wet to set the poles,” he said.

Howell said they will continue to get customers on as soon as they can.

Pontotoc Electric has received help from various crews, including a crew from Pike Electric Construction Co. of Carrollton, Ga. Other electric associations responded to the disaster by sending crews. Some of the crews assisting in the efforts were Tishomingo Electric Power Association, Tippah Electric Power Association, Tupelo Water and Light, and Holly Springs Electric Department.

In addition to the Pontotoc Electric Power Association, BellSouth Inc., had crews in the area restoring lines to customers.

BellSouth Regional Manager Mike Walker said 273 customers remained without phone lines as of Tuesday. But that number may be underestimated, Walker said, because some residents have not been able to report outages.

One of the hardest areas hit for the lines was at the intersection of Mississippi Highways 15 and 9 on the south side of Pontotoc.

Federal declaration

On Tuesday Lee, Pontotoc and Prentiss counties were added to the list of major disaster areas in the state because of strong storms that rocked Northeast Mississippi this month.

According a news release from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the presidential declaration was amended Tuesday to include the three Northeast Mississippi counties and three Delta counties damaged by tornadoes.

Individual assistance in Northeast Mississippi also is available for residents in Alcorn, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Clay, Itawamba, Lafayette, Monroe, Tippah, Tishomingo and Union counties.

“Both FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh and President Bush pledged their support to Mississippians during my conversation with them on Monday in Washington,” said Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. “We appreciate their quick follow through and federal assistance that will help us quickly respond to the needs of our citizens in getting the help they need to rebuild their lives.”

The disaster declaration will enable the federal government to cover the cost of up to 75 percent of the damages in these areas.

In light of the declaration, Attorney General Mike Moore warned businesses that price gouging during state emergencies is illegal and could result in fines and jail time.

“It is a violation of Mississippi law to take advantage of citizens during a state of emergency or natural disaster,” Moore said in a news release.

When a state of emergency is declared, he said, prices for goods and services cannot exceed the prices ordinarily charged for the same goods and services 24 hours prior to the declaration of a state of emergency.

Pontotoc Sheriff Leo Mask warns residents to be aware of scams. “Some people are coming in and doing work for them and things are not legitimate,” he said.

Mask said several people have tried to scam residents out of money by clearing property then charging them a large amount of money.

Residents who have questions about people wanting to do work should call the sheriff’s department at (662) 489-3111 or any law enforcement agency.

Taking away debris

Residents within the city limits of Pontotoc have two options when removing debris, said Mayor Bill Rutledge.

Any victim of the storm, he said, can take their debris to the landfill for disposal and will not be charged a fee. Inside the city limits, crews will be picking up the debris. Wood items will be burned, Rutledge said.

He said he expects the county will do the same thing.

Other communities will be following the same plan or will be disposing of the debris in various ways. In Sherman, individual residents are allowed to burn wood not needed but must first notify city hall.

Four-legged victims

Humans were not the only victims of Saturday’s devastating storm. Theresa Wheeler, office manager for the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, said they have received no calls for assistance in finding lost or homeless animals and no animals have been brought in.

But in an effort to make sure animals are being taken care of, Wheeler said she has gathered a group of volunteers to help find injured or lost animals.

The group is expected to do a sweep of the area today to find animals injured in the storm.