Area officials cite glitch, hope for storm funds

A communication issue in the days after the April 4 tornados may have hurt Hinds County’s initial appeal for federal disaster assistance, but state and local officials say they are encouraged the money might still come.

“If we had all worked more closely the first time around, we wouldn’t have had to go through this,” said Marcus Ward, chief of staff for Jackson Mayor Frank Melton.

Disaster assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency spent last week making a second, more detailed inspection of damage caused by the storms in Jackson, Bolton and other areas of Hinds County.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency chief of staff Lea Stokes said she is pleased with the results but noted the appeal process is difficult.

During the first assessment, officials counted about 140 homes damaged. Stokes said more damaged structures were located during the second visit.

City officials don’t know how the budget will survive without federal help. Stokes said the city’s initial disaster evaluation was incomplete.

“With the city, I don’t think they showed us all the damage there was,” she said.

Ward said MEMA and Hinds County were in charge of the first assessment. The city merely loaned personnel to help collect disaster data and received little direction from federal or state emergency officials, he said.

FEMA teams asked to see “the hardest-hit areas,” Ward said. “They didn’t ask to see the rest.”

Ward said city officials believed at the time that the damage was severe enough to qualify for funding.

Melton complimented the state and Gov. Haley Barbour for preparing the appeal but said the city will manage with or without the funding. The city has five years to pay back the $6 million.

Clarion Ledger
5/20/8