Relief efforts were well underway Monday as south Mississippi communities struggled to recover from a Saturday tornado that left four confirmed deaths and more than 50 injuries.
As of just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 23, no federal disaster declaration had been made.
State Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, told colleagues on the House floor that the area is in desperate need for the president to declare a federal disaster and implored his colleagues to press for such a declaration.
Gov. Phil Bryant said he talked to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John Kelly on Monday afternoon.
“He has assured me FEMA and (Homeland Security) are leaning into the recovery effort in Mississippi and across the South. He expressed his condolences for the loss of four Mississippians and the support of President Donald Trump,” Bryant said on Facebook.
In the meantime, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has provided six generators to Forrest County for water and severe weather systems, 2,000 tarps, 1,500 bottles of water.
The agency also deployed six disaster reservists, five for assisting with Forrest County Emergency Operations Center and one for assisting the State Emergency Operations Center.
Officials said 7,600 residents remain without power statewide.
Forrest, Lamar, Lauderdale, Perry, Pike and Wilkinson counties are reporting 480 damaged homes, debris on roads, flooding and downed power lines.
Mississippi Department of Human Services and American Red Cross are housing 79 reported occupants in the Forrest County’s 361 safe room and shelter. A Health Department crisis team is on site to assist with potential needs.
In addition, the Department of Human Services and American Red Cross are offering help to 12 occupants reported at the Petal Civic Center and housing 30 international students that attend William Carey University at facilities at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The Salvation Army has deployed two feeding units to assist the Hattiesburg area at Forrest and Lamar County 361 safe room and shelter.
The Mississippi Department of Health confirmed that all water systems are functioning.
There have been boil water notices issued by McCarley Water Association (Carroll County), Barrontown Water Association (Forrest County), Runnelstown-North (Perry County), portions of the Pattison Water Association (Claiborne County) and Symonds Water Association (Bolivar County).
Three schools are without electrical power in the Petal School District. Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon said that classes were canceled for Monday.
Gov. Phil Bryant declared a State of Emergency hours after the tornado struck early Saturday and signed an executive order to use the National Guard for additional relief service in affected area.
Col. Christian Patterson, Mississippi National Guard spokesman, said the state Guard has been asked to provide 30 guardsmen for presence patrol operations in the Hattiesburg area.
“As of right now, that is all we have been requested to do,” Patterson said. “Right now we are just standing by for any additional requests that might come down.”
The Mississippi National Guard, Highway Patrol, Bureau of Investigation and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks all sent personnel to support the Hattiesburg and Petal Police Department to aid in security and patrol of businesses to deter looting.
Mississippi Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Flood said fortunately no roads were flooded or washed out.
“It was mainly just clearing debris and getting power restored to these areas whenever we can,” Flood said.
“The main thing was we had to clear debris that was blocking the highway,” he said. “Our guys were out there before dawn Saturday just getting roads cleared. Thankfully we didn’t have to get any roads closed. (Roads were not) significantly damaged.”
Flood said 62 employees of MDOT were sent to help direct traffic in areas experiencing outage and remove the trees blocking the roads, replacing regulatory signs, repairing signals and directing traffic at the intersection on Highway 49 and throughout Petal on Highway 42
Flood said there was a stretch of Highway 42 that had some power outages and an intersection close to William Carey University that had signals put out of commission by the winds. But that in these instances MDOT and Highway Patrol personnel were out helping to direct traffic.
Warren Strain, spokesperson for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation said though this has not proven to be an issue, the lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina makes the presence of law enforcement a concern for the department.
“There was some issues there, but by in large, it hasn’t been a problem. I’m not aware of any issues during this incident,” Strain said. “I’m not aware of any looting going on, but there is a strong law enforcement presence. We want to assist and make sure some sense of order and normalcy return.”