By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
A state of emergency has been declared in Pearl River County, where deputies with the Sheriff’s Department will be out patrolling areas hit by the storm, electric crews will be out restoring power and donations of clothes and other items will be accepted at a later date.
Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Shane Tucker said deputies will be patrolling the areas that were hit by the tornado that hit Pearl River County on Christmas day. The patrols will work to ensure burglaries and acts of looting do not occur.
Anyone who burglarizes or loots a home will be arrested and charged with the crimes, Tucker said. The Sheriff’s Department also intends to tack on the charge of looting to any burglary charge, which could mean an additional 15 years of prison time if convicted.
Power crews are also out replacing power poles that were knocked down during the storm, said Coast Electric Communications Specialist April Lollar. The storm knocked down more than 30 poles, and by Wednesday morning about 20 remained to be replaced, Lollar said. So far about 15 homes were without power Wednesday morning, and while Lollar expects power to most homes to be restored by Wednesday evening, severely damaged homes will not have power restored.
FEMA and MEMA representatives are expected to arrive to conduct assessments, so Tucker asks community members to avoid traveling along roads with heavy damage if possible. The additional traffic will make the work to restore power or conduct damage assessments more difficult, Tucker said.
Frank Rivette with the National Weather Service in Slidell, La.., was out Wednesday morning looking at the damage.
“It was a tornado, we’re just trying to determine the strength,” Rivette said.
Pearl River County Emergency Operations Center Public Information Officer Tony Bounds said the number of damaged homes has increased. So far assessments have recorded 17 homes destroyed and another 17 homes with minor damage due to the tornado. He expects that number to go up as the damage assessment continues.
A total of 12 people suffered injuries, according to Pearl River County Emergency Operations Director Danny Manley, but none were life threatening, No fatalities have been reported.
With cold weather setting in and so many people without homes or without power Bounds said the Southern Baptist Association located at 1376 McNeill Steephollow Road will open a cold weather shelter beginning Wednesday at 2 p.m. Bounds could not say how long the shelter would be open, but he expects it to remain open during the next couple of days of cold weather.
Anyone who would like to donate clothes or other items should hold on to those items, since the exact need is not known. Bounds said once the need is established and a collection point is agreed upon an announcement will be made.