OUR OPINION: Debris removal creates an image for recovery

Residents in central and north Tupelo and northern Lee County areas near the city welcomed the sight and sound of debris-removal trucks and equipment this week, the start of an expected 90-day clean-up of an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of ruin left by an EF3 tornado at mid-afternoon April 28.

The twister, with roaring winds projected at 150 mph, left a wide swath of destruction through neighborhoods and commercial properties on a southwest to northeast line. The storm, part of a vicious southern system, felled thousands of trees, some crashing through the homes of residents in whose yards they had stood for decades.

The long walls of debris on streets and roadsides and remaining in many yards of damaged dwellings is scheduled to slowly diminish during the summer as up to 20 heavy trucks spend every day hauling away the damage. An expectation of recovery, repair and renewal is widespread, and should be encouraged communitywide.

The neighborhoods and commercial districts, while differing across the spectrum, all were long-established. They met definite community needs, and those needs remain after the storm.

Recovery, which will be a long task, will reinvigorate the economy in much the same way that recovery from Hurricane Katrina reshaped the Gulf Coast after the 2005 hurricane left the largest debris field in American disaster history: about 43 million cubic yards in Mississippi and 200 million cubic yards from Texas to the Florida panhandle.

A general estimate of property damage in Tupelo, Lee County and the surrounding areas has not been made, but timber experts speaking through Mississippi State University have calculated forestry/tree losses at $14.3 million, including millions in Lee, Itawamba and Prentiss counties.

Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis said Tuesday afternoon the city’s costs in response to the storm so far do not include any property damage estimates because that does not fall under the city’s resources or responsibilities, except as public structures apply.

Lewis and other city officials earlier released an assessment citing 715 structures with some form of storm damage or destruction; hundreds of the structures are residences of some kind.

The beginning of debris removal, one of the first commitments made by government at every level, can lead to a literal clearing of the way to a robust recovery for Tupelo, Lee County and, in time, other storm-damaged areas of Mississippi.