Mississippi Gov. Bryant Eyes Special Session on Tornado Damage

By Jeff Amy | May 7, 2014

Gov. Phil Bryant may call the Mississippi Legislature into special session to help pay state government’s share of tornado recovery costs.

Speaking in Louisville, Bryant told reporters that the state believes that it needs at least $8.5 million to match federal aid from the April 26 tornadoes. The National Weather Service has counted 23 tornadoes that touched down across the Mississippi on April 23. A total of 14 people were killed, 10 of them in Winston County.

“I’ll be briefing the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House tomorrow on the potential of having a special session,” Bryant said.

State and local governments are each supposed to put up a one-eighth match to federal aid. The state has to pay all of some administrative costs, said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. MEMA was budgeted $5.4 million in the budget year that ends June 30.

State Sen. Giles Ward, R-Louisville and Rep. Michael Evans, D-Louisville, are likely to be strong supporters of any aid. Ward’s house was destroyed, while Evans coordinated search and rescue efforts in the county.

“Today I take off my senatorial hat and stand before you as a victim of the storm,” Ward said.

Bryant lauded the performance of Winston County officials, who cleared more than 100 truckloads of debris from a parking lot where a mobile emergency hospital is being set up because the Winston Medical Center was heavily damaged. That mobile hospital was trucked in from North Carolina over the weekend. A mobile emergency room from the University of Mississippi Medical Center has relocated from a Wal-Mart parking lot to the site of mobile hospital and will stay until the hospital, which has its own emergency room, is open.

“So you can see, we’re making progress,” Bryant said. “But as you can see, it’s a long struggle.”

Mississippi Emergency Management Director Robert Latham said more than 1,400 people have already registered for federal disaster assistance and more than $350,000 in money has already been committed.

MEMA spokesman Greg Flynn said 16 people remained in a shelter Sunday night in Louisville and 20 people remained in a shelter Sunday in Tupelo. He said officials are continuing to examine options for temporary housing in Winston County, where Ward estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 of the county’s 19,000 residents were homeless. Officials have said not enough homes and apartments are available to absorb that many people, and have said they’re considering bringing in mobile homes from FEMA.

“We want to be able to keep people in their community,” Flynn said.

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