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Response in MS after wicked storms

Faith-based organizations plan response for more than 1,700 homes damaged or destroyed in wicked early April storms.


A week and a half after tornadoes damaged thousands of homes, areas around Jackson MS received more damage than they did in the days following Hurricane Katrina's sweep through the area nearly three years ago.

This week, uprooted trees are being cut down to manageable pieces, downed power lines are being reconnected and residents of some 1,700 homes that the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency says received major damage or were destroyed, are beginning assessments for damage estimates before repairs can begin. Local disaster responders say as many as 8,000 homes were in some way impacted by the wicked weather.

"We have to do what we can and then be prepared for the next thing," said Vicki Lantham of Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson, which was near the epicenter of the strongest storm.

The storm front that swept through central Mississippi earlier this month, produced at least five tornadoes, starting in the northwest corner of Warren County, according to the National Weather Service. The most powerful was an EF2 that began in extreme southern Madison County and thrashed through northeast Jackson before ending in northwest Rankin County. The tornado that hit Jackson had winds up to 115 miles per hour.

CJ Caufield, the state disaster response coordinator for The Mississippi United Methodist Church (which partners with The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to provide support for disaster survivors) said damage estimates, which are still being calculated, are two to three times the amount sustained when Hurricane Katrina moved through. While Jackson is far inland from where the hurricane made landfall, damage from that storm was in the millions of dollars, he said.

"But we really got walloped by these tornadoes," he said.

Lantham said the American Red Cross has set up an intake center at Christ United Methodist. Church volunteers have been through the neighborhoods to check on members and others to see what people need and to help direct them to the resources that are available. She said that while there is damage throughout several counties, major damage is scattered across the region.

"But it seems that everyone around has some damage, whether it's a tree down in their yard or their whole house just completely destroyed," she said. "Everyone needs some help."

According to Lantham, most of the houses in the path of the storm had some sort of damage. She said limbs and even whole trees litter yards and some streets, though they are being slowly removed by volunteers. There are broken windows and, in many cases, broken houses.

No one, she said, was killed, but many lives have been thrown into a difficult time by the high winds of the tornado.

Sandra Braasch, director of disaster preparedness and response for Lutheran-Episcopal Services in Mississippi, said volunteers are busy assessing the damage, planning how they will manage the cases they face, doing some recovery work and referring people to the available services.

"We have volunteers on the ground working with people who were affected by the storms," she said. "We are trying to prepare for the flooding, but we're going through the process with the people who already have damage."

Caufield said preparation and training are already underway for the expected flooding when the Mississippi River crests over its banks at the end of the week. The flood will move south over the next two weeks.

According to the National Weather Service, there are already some 95 people already displaced in the early stages of flooding in the northern part of the state. At least three houses have been destroyed and 37 have major damage,

Floods have already started to take their toll in the north part of Mississippi. In Greenville, 50 buildings have water inside and the water is expected to be at flood stage in Vicksburg by Tuesday afternoon.

Caufield said the highest water is still days away from Jackson, so volunteers are learning to remove mud from houses so they will be prepared for the inevitable flood damage. He said they want to be ready for whatever happens.

"And, for now, we're going to keep doing what we can to continue to clean up the damage from the tornadoes," he added.

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