OUR OPINION: Debris removal contracts give way to more recovery

Debris removal in areas of Tupelo and Lee County damaged by a fierce late April tornado is nearing or has been completed in the phase of reimbursable contract work approved by FEMA and MEMA, with streets, roads and neighborhoods hit by the storm in vastly better physical shape.

More than 352,000 cubic yards of storm-generated trash have been removed from county and city areas and placed in a licensed landfill near Saltillo.

All contracts were separate but closely coordinated in terms of comprehensive planning and response.

The county’s removal was completed by contract haulers in mid-June, and Saturday is the final day for contract removal in Tupelo.

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson said on Wednesday a more limited program of post-contract removal continues under the commitments of city and county government. United Way also has committed volunteer resources for post-contract removal.

Timely action in securing federal disaster designation following the April storm paved the way to qualify for the FEMA/MEMA debris removal program, which reimburses local government for most of the costs committed in that phase of recovery.

In Tupelo, contract removal has included, through Wednesday, 1,308 hanging limbs, 853 leaning trees and 875 stumps.

Work in Lee County includes the same kind of removal, but figures for the individual categories were not immediately available Wednesday.

Shelton said Tupelo government is committed to additional removal for “as long as it takes.” Thompson said he believes the county’s work can be completed in a span of eight days or less once it starts in a few days.

Thousands of people have seen the damage stretching over several miles in the city and across northern Lee and Itawamba counties.

No one having seen can doubt the benefit of removal as a kick-start to the recovery process, tangible and emotional.

The larger recovery is a long process. Full recovery is a process of years rather than months, but a starting point is essential.

Research on disaster impacts (defined as an event larger and more disruptive than a community is able to handle alone) shows that adaptive behavior, beyond any trauma, is a strong response.

Tupelo, Lee County and others in our state exhibit that behavior, making recovery more probable and attractive in the larger sense of community.