Neighbors help neighbors in MS

Disaster response efforts focus on assessing needs of survivors.


In some spots in a 17 county area of rural central Mississippi, people say it looks like a bomb went off. In others, it looks like the typical aftermath of a late spring rain. And those places could, literally, be next door to one another.

Residents are reeling from the storm, which is the worst natural disaster to hit Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina struck the southern coast and moved inland in 2005. Just like Katrina, the weekend’s tornado left 10 people dead. Two people were also killed by the storms across the border in Alabama.

Don Gann, who heads the Men’s Ministry for the Mississippi Baptists, is in Yazoo City, where most of the damage from Saturday’s tornado began, said roofs were blown off of most of the buildings in the area. Towering pine trees were snapped in half like so many toothpicks, he said.

Power was out throughout the region after the storm, he said, but by Monday morning, most of the power had been restored in areas where the poles did not need to be replaced.

“It’s not bad…considering,” he said.

The dotted line of destruction cut a path a mile to a mile and three quarters wide  heads north and east for more than 100 miles.

“Fortunately, it’s a pretty rural area,” Gann said. “Where it touched down on residences and businesses, it was horrible, but there were not a lot of people or buildings in the path.”

The Baptist Men’s Ministry is in Yazoo City cooking food provided by the American Red Cross for distribution to those in need in the area around the tornado’s path, On Sunday, they cooked and sent out 3,500 meals to those whose homes were damaged or destroyed and to volunteers who are traveling to the area to help. They were expecting to cook a similar number of meals on Monday and Tuesday, at least.

Sandra Braasch, president of the Mississippi VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) said her group is working with a number of others to coordinate the efforts of volunteers who are coming in groups and as individuals.

Braasch and Gann both said the majority of the initial clean up and repairs that have been done have been done by neighbors helping neighbors.

“I think people in Mississippi are pretty resilient,” Gann said. “If your house isn’t damaged then you go on over to the neighbors and help them.”

The Red Cross had initially opened four shelters in the area to house those whose houses had been damaged by the storm. Braasch said two of them had been closed after the first night because most of those in need of shelter had been taken in by family and friends.

Volunteers from all over are starting to pour into the area, Braasch said. At the Volunteer Reception Center, being operated by the VOAD and the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, hundreds of volunteers (many of whom registered for service online at are being assigned where they are needed.

Meanwhile, Snooky Hogue, the administrator at First Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City, said volunteers are coming into the area from Presbyterian churches from all over the country. The response, she said, has been “overwhelming.” Volunteers are responding to the call to help people in need.

While a bright sun and clear skies are lighting the way for clean ups and repairs, the landscape in central Mississippi is dotted with destruction. Gov. Haley Barbour has declared a state of emergency for the area. FEMA surveyors are on the scene to determine if a federal disaster designation will be declared as well.

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