Tornadoes’ cost to treasury still being calculated

other_state_newsBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – It seems no expense has been spared in dealing with at least 15 tornadoes that ripped through Mississippi last Monday, killing 14, including one in the twister that pummeled Tupelo and Lee County.

The National Guard has been called out, and emergency responders have been working overtime to deal with the storms and their aftermath. A portable emergency room was set up, and eventually a portable hospital will be added in Louisville where the Winston County Medical Center suffered significant damage from last Monday’s tornadoes.

At some point, the bill will come due for the costs of the response and the recovery from Monday’s storms.

Much of that financial burden will be placed on the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Gov. Phil Bryant recently said it is too early to determine if an additional appropriation will have to be made by the Legislature to deal with the costs of the storm.

According to information compiled by the governor’s office, the total known cost of the storm thus far is $1.2 million.

“These costs are really only for emergency response efforts like search and rescue and deploying the National Guard,” according to a narrative provided by Nicole Webb, a spokeswoman for Bryant.

If the National Guard is deployed or the Highway Patrol for search and rescue efforts, those costs are paid by MEMA.

There will be numerous other costs.

Bryant and the state did get some relief when President Barack Obama, at the governor’s request, issued an emergency declaration on Wednesday for seven Mississippi counties, including Lee and Itawamba in Northeast Mississippi.

The declaration means that people in the impacted area will be eligible for federal disaster aid, including grants for temporary housing and loans to cover uninsured property damage.

Plus, assistance will be available to the state and local governments to help with such items as debris removal and for other costs, such as overtime pay for emergency responders. Under the declaration, the federal government will pay 75 percent of those costs, leaving what will be millions still for the state and most likely local governments.

“It will take some time to determine the final costs associated with these devastating storms,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said. “Once the numbers are finalized, we will ensure resources are available to fund the state’s share of all necessary and appropriate expenditures.”

Webb said there have been estimates of $100 million in costs. The damage includes the Winston County hospital, major damage to the Richland Fire Department in Rankin County, major damage to more than 800 homes and to dozens of businesses, especially along North Gloster in Tupelo.

Webb said eventually representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and MEMA “will go out into affected areas and conduct thorough damage assessments. Those inspections, and reports from individual and public insurance claims, will be what build a more complete picture of the costs.

MEMA has been budgeted two pots of money for the current fiscal year totaling $5.6 million, plus the authority to drawdown $500,000 from the state’s rainy day fund.

Bryant had asked for an increase of about $1.5 million for the coming year to deal with operational needs and commitments the state could have from past federally declared disasters. The Legislature appropriated about $4.5 million.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com