Cleanup under way in Miss. after deadly weather

Published 1:19 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2010

As Ashland Mayor Mitch Carroll helped residents remove debris and trees from their property on Monday, he took a minute to give thanks that a weekend tornado that killed two Benton County residents didn’t take more lives.

“I thank the good Lord it wasn’t but two fatalities because it could have been a whole lot worse when you look at the destruction,” Carroll said Monday, a day after an early-morning twister wreaked havoc on the county, blowing some houses off the foundations.

The tornado was part of a supercell thunderstorm that also spawned a twister in Abbeville, where one person was killed. The weather system dumped several inches of rain across north Mississippi, causing flooding problems on highways and in homes and businesses.

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In all, six Mississippi deaths, including traffic fatalities, are being blamed on the storm. Another 12 people in Tennessee and four in Kentucky were killed in the same destructive line of storms and flash flooding.

Damage assessments were being conducted Monday to determine whether the counties could be eligible for any federal disaster relief, said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Nikki Pressley.

At least 13 counties have reported damage from the storm, according Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour. The governor issued a state of emergency for Benton, Lafayette, Panola, Tippah and Union counties.

Preliminary surveys show 11 homes were destroyed and six had major damage in Benton County, the area that appeared to have the most damage.

Schools were closed Monday in Benton, Tippah and Alcorn counties, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.

Carroll believes a tornado siren helped save some lives. He said the siren, located in the city, went off about 2 a.m. Sunday.

“We have a storm shelter that will hold 200 people. We had up to 175 people at the shelter before the tornado actually hit,” he said. “A lot more people have become aware of what these storms can do.”

The large building with 18-inch thick, steel-fortified walls is located in the city, but it’s open to anyone, said Carroll.

Most of the cleanup Monday “was an individual effort,” said Benton County Chief Deputy Joe Batts. “As far as organized help, we haven’t established anything.”

Batts said trees were still on some houses and in yards.

The flooding that led to a death in Corinth had subsided on Monday, said Police Chief David Lancaster. He said streets were clear, but many of the businesses had broken windows from the flood waters.

“It’s going to have some impact on our local economy,” Lancaster said.

MEMA’s personnel are now spread among three disasters, including this past weekend’s storms. Some counties in central Mississippi are still in the recovery phase after a killer tornado left 10 dead on April 24.

Barbour and others were on the coast monitoring an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that had been creeping toward shore in Mississippi and Louisiana.

MEMA spokesman Jeff Rent said he didn’t have a timetable on how long it could take to finish the assessments from the latest round of storms.