Mississippi officials still assessing Isaac damage

Published 4:16 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mississippi officials say assessing damages from Hurricane Isaac is a tedious task that will take time.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Rent said Tuesday that electricity had been restored to all but a few hundred structures and that only three shelters remained open as of Tuesday. Those shelters housed 26 people in Forrest, Hinds and Jackson counties.

Rent said assessing and responding to storm damage is a “slow, tedious process” and “we’ve got a long way to go.”

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Isaac crept across parts of Mississippi and Louisiana last week after making landfall as a Category 1 storm. The storm surge swamped some low-lying coastal areas and rivers and creeks flooded when Isaac dumped enormous amounts of rain as it moved north.

The storm was blamed for seven deaths, including two in Mississippi.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and MEMA Director Robert Latham were in south Mississippi on Tuesday, where they were meeting with officials and planned to visit a Hancock County storm shelter built after Hurricane Katrina.

Danny Manley, Pearl River County’s emergency operations director, said Fugate toured some hard-hit spots in his county, where nearly 200 people had to be rescued when record flooding swamped neighborhoods.

“We had water in places nobody dreamed it would ever be,” Manley said.

Manley said most of the water had receded, but it’s still not clear exactly how many homes were damaged there. He said there are probably hundreds in his county alone.

Manley said Fugate pledged that FEMA would be quick to provide money that is available due to a federal disaster declaration.

Rent said officials are studying damages in five counties where there has been increased interest in individual assistance grants. Under the current federal disaster declaration, the assistance is available only to people in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, and Pearl River counties.

Rent said officials are assessing damage in Amite, Lincoln, Marion, Pike and Walthall counties, where numerous people applied for individual assistance, even though those counties aren’t eligible under the current disaster declaration. Individual assistance helps storm victims with such things as home repairs or living expenses, though it’s usually not enough to cover all the costs.

A disaster declaration was issued Aug. 29 and included public assistance for 48 counties and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. That money can be used by governments for things like debris removal. Individual assistance was added to the disaster declaration on Saturday.

The Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service said Tuesday that it’s coordinating with MEMA to assess needs and registering volunteers and managing donation requests. Authorities say individuals and groups that want to volunteer will be turned away from stricken areas if they don’t have proper credentials.

The Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service can be found at www.mcvs.org.