By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Pearl River County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., said on Wednesday that it is unlikely that Pearl River County, or the State of Mississippi, will be placed under a federal disaster declaration in connection because of a rash of tornadoes that raked the county and the state on Christmas Day.
Also on Wednesday, Pearl River County Board of Supervisors President J. Patrick Lee said, “It doesn’t look like it right now. All I am hearing from federal officials is, ‘No’.”
The National Weather Service said the tornado that hit central Pearl River County on Christmas Day was an Effective Force No. 3 twister with peak 140-mph winds. The tornado, after raking Pearl River County, traveled into adjacent Stone County and did damage there, too.
Weather service officials said the tornado was 175 yards wide and left a 24-mile-long path of destruction in Pearl River and Stone counties. At the point where it crossed Sones Chapel Road just west of McNeill, the tornado destroyed nine homes in that one small section.
Officials said it destroyed a total of 28 homes in Stone and Pearl River counties. Some of the homeowners said they had no home insurance to cover losses and said they did not know what they would do for shelter. Residents had hoped for federal help, too, because of the destruction.
A collection point at the McNeill Volunteer Fire Dept. was set up where residents can donate clothing and other items to victims, and a disaster relief fund was also set up at First National Bank. The outpouring of gifts and help was “overwhelming,” said Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley.
Although there has been no disaster declaration coming from Washington, D.C., the governor and Pearl River County board of supervisors declared an emergency situation for Pearl River County immediately after the tornado hit about 3 p.m. on Christmas Day. It will last 30 days.
The declaration opens up avenues of aid that would otherwise be slow in coming and also opens up other avenues to aid storm victims with state and county aid.
A federal disaster declaration would open up still more avenues of aid, such as help with housing, and other aid, officials said, but a federal disaster declaration is unlikely.
Said Lumpkin, “The longer we go without a federal declaration, the less optimistic I am about getting a federal declaration. We need it, and would like to get it, because it would open up a lot more disaster aid for our people.”
Added Lumpkin, “They (federal officials) have had enough time to get all the numbers together, and we haven’t heard anything, so I don’t think there is going to be a federal declaration declared.
“We had MEMA and FEMA and the governor down, and they looked at it. It’s a complicated calculation, and you have got to have a certain amount of damage statewide to get a federal declaration invoked, and we did not have enough damage statewide,” he said.
Manley said on Wednesday that there has been “a large outpouring of gifts and donations to the tornado victims.”
Donations rolled in around the six county coastal region. Coast Electric Power Association employee Wayne Ulrich said Coast Electric employees from throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast area donated a number of truckloads of items to storm victims.
“Although we repaired the power lines to many areas, we just thought we should do something else to help our neighbors,” he said.