Storm damage reports trickle into MEMA, next steps in disaster aid

Entergy Power repair crews head north on Interstate 55 in north Jackson, Miss., Monday, Feb....
Entergy Power repair crews head north on Interstate 55 in north Jackson, Miss., Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, as light snow mixed with sleet, and rain continue to cover much of the state. The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures barely hovering at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and likely slipping into the single digits by Tuesday morning. A winter storm warning continues throughout the state.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 1:10 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - One week after mother nature pounded the state with heavy rain, which quickly turned into ice, families in Mississippi remain without food and water, the most basic necessities.

“I’m very weak and in pain and I can’t swallow my medicine,” Teresa Smith told WLBT Saturday.

Smith has since been able to get water, but electricity and utility crews are making daily progress as they work around the clock to repair infrastructure so no one has to be in the cold or dark.

And like the forecast changes, in the coming days, the state’s response efforts will turn into a recovery conversation.

“What we will do is assess the damage and if public assistance is available,” Governor Tate Reeves said.

There are two types of federal assistance, of which each name speaks for itself; individual and public assistance.

Mississippi must deliver a report to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that shows the state suffered at least $4.5 million in damages, and each county has to meet its own threshold. For example, Hinds County must show a minimum of $954,159 in damages from the storm.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) crafts one report based on each county report and their own assessment.

“We are currently working with counties conducting damage assessments,” said MEMA Executive Director Stephen McCraney. “Once that information is gathered, MEMA will have a better grasp of the destruction from this winter storm event.”

Here are the damage reports submitted to MEMA so far, by the following counties:

  • Adams County – 113 homes; 5 businesses
  • Chickasaw County – 9 businesses/farms
  • Clay County – 7 businesses/farms
  • Copiah County – 2 homes affected; 2 businesses
  • Grenada County – 23 homes affected; 2 businesses
  • Jefferson Davis County – 1 home
  • Kemper County – 3 homes
  • Leake County – 7 homes affected; 2 farms
  • Marshall County – 1 home affected; 1 business
  • Oktibbeha County – 2 homes
  • Smith County – 9 homes affected; 1 business
  • Warren County – 10 homes
  • Washington County – 15,750 homes affected because of water supply issues
  • Yazoo County – 1 home

*These are preliminary numbers and could change throughout the assessment process, MEMA says.

The report includes damages to all infrastructure, such as homes, farms, public buildings, public roads, and businesses, or even water systems like Jackson’s billion-dollar infrastructure.

“It’s a very expensive system to repair,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “It is expensive to change out hundred-year-old pipes that will cost literally more than a billion dollars to replace our entire system.”

Jackson’s water woes have plagued the city for years, closing schools and impacting commutes on clear, sunny days. But would the feds even consider it?

“One of the factors FEMA looks at is deferred maintenance and this is where it could get tricky,” said Malary White, director of external affairs, MEMA. “FEMA will want to know if the pipes and roads were functioning in great condition before a disaster even happened and did the disaster itself damage these or were these infrastructures damaged beforehand.”

MEMA, the middle-man between the county and the federal government, is the agency that recommends a disaster declaration, but the governor must ultimately request it from President Biden.

MEMA’s recommendation doesn’t guarantee aid but offers Reeves data to make informed decisions.

The report then goes to FEMA, which can give the green light, as they did with Hurricane Zeta.

Over 32,000 homes in 10 counties across the state and an additional 284 businesses received damage due to Zeta. Over 1,000 public roads and buildings in Mississippi also were damaged.

As MEMA awaits each county’s damage report, they will continue to cover the fundamentals.

“Our biggest request right now, as you can imagine is bottled water and we are handling that as a state,” Malary White said.

The agency has delivered over 100,000 bottles of water and more than 100 tarps.

The storm also claimed two lives.

Last week, Neshoba County Emergency Management Agency reported one storm-related fatality to MEMA that occurred due to a motor vehicle accident.

Over the weekend, MEMA received an additional report of a storm-related death in Oktibbeha County also due to a traffic accident.

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