JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Now that Governor Tate Reeves has requested federal assistance for joint damage assessments from February’s deadly Winter storm, there are five more key steps before public assistance could begin flowing in Mississippi.
Now that the request has been made for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct joint damage assessments, Mississippi will soon move on to step seven.
The FEMA public assistance (PA) program provides federal disaster grant assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly owned facilities and specific facilities of certain private nonprofit organizations.
The PA does not include individual assistance or checks directly to individuals after a storm. Instead, the PA focuses on repairing infrastructure after a disaster.
MEMA has received the following preliminary reports from counties regarding the number of homes affected by the Winter storm:
Grenada - 23
Yazoo - 27
Carroll - 5
Washington – 15,750 (primarily due to water)
Simpson - 2
Wilkinson - 12
Jefferson Davis - 1
Claiborne - 5
Jefferson - 2
Adams - 361
Copiah - 13
Warren - 10
Smith - 9
Newton - 2
Marshall - 1
Oktibbeha - 2
Neshoba - 7
Leake - 7
Kemper - 3
Also, a total number of 53 businesses and farms were affected.
To make their decision, FEMA will be zeroing in on two categories: emergency work and permanent work done by local governments during and after the storm.
Permanent work is any work municipalities did after the storm to restore a facility damaged by the event to its pre-disaster size, capacity, and function.
Emergency work is anything that local cities and counties did immediately to save lives; protect public health and safety, protect property or lessen the threat of any damage.
Jackson’s billion-dollar water system might be included in this assessment as utility crews have been working around the clock for the last three weeks to repair the city’s broken water system.
The storm caused surface water temperatures at the reservoir to fall to 48 degrees. That surface temperature, coupled with the sub-freezing outside temperatures, led to the water screens freezing up, Public Works Director Charles Williams said.
“Those froze and we couldn’t bring water in,” he said. “When the water gets to 48 degrees and the temperature outside is below 32 it’s a bad combination.”
Plant workers discovered the problem the Saturday following the storms as tens of thousands of people were without running water.
At one point, people like Teresa Smith at Apple Manor Apartment resorted to melting snow to drink to her medications.
“Drinking dirty water from outside off the ground is disgusting. The thought of it makes me to the point of having a panic attack,” said Smith.
Whether the government will repair Jackson’s age-old water system is anybody’s guess because the system was damaged before the storm and the government will be asking those types of questions.
“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 for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “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.”
Finally, FEMA must make time to provide lots of supporting documentation to show why public assistance is needed.
If FEMA verifies the damage assessments, the middle-man, MEMA drafts the official report for federal assistance so the governor can outline exactly what Mississippi needs from the president.
If approved by President Biden, the floodgates for financial public assistance opens.
It’s a tedious process that could help prepare the Magnolia state before another storm.
Mississippi has not met the threshold for individual assistance or direct checks, but that could change as damage reports are still being submitted from the Winter storm.