Mississippi Seeks Federal Disaster Ruling for Killer Tornado | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mississippi Seeks Federal Disaster Ruling for Killer Tornado

PEARL, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that Mississippi is seeking a federal disaster declaration for some or all of the seven counties hit by a tornado last week.

That statement came hours after another tornado hit near Seminary in Covington County just before dawn. Six homes were damaged or destroyed, but no one was injured, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.

Officials were also bracing for unusual winter flooding along the Mississippi River in mid-January, as heavy rains filter downstream.

The National Weather Service said the Monday twister was much less powerful than last week's storm, which killed 10. The tornado, with maximum winds of 95 mph, cut a path up to 100 yards wide and traveled 5.6 miles. Meteorologists evaluated it as EF-1 on the enhanced Fujita scale.

Covington County Emergency Manager Greg Sanford said the damage happened near the town of Seminary, about 20 miles from Hattiesburg. Trees fell across U.S. 49, blocking southbound lanes. An accident on U.S. 49 was associated with the storm was reported and a fireworks stand along the highway was destroyed.

More than 6,000 customers lacked electricity at 6 a.m., but that number fell quickly. By 3 p.m., about 2,800 customers were without power.

The scale of the destruction paled in comparison to north Mississippi. Bryant said preliminary counts show 233 homes were destroyed or seriously damaged in the Wednesday tornado, which ran from Clarksdale northeast to Walnut. Another 463 homes received lighter damage.

Bryant said the state is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make grants to individuals available in Benton, Coahoma, Marshall, Quitman and Tippah counties. If Mississippi meets the $4.2 million threshold for damage to public and nonprofit facilities, Bryant said he would also ask FEMA to make grants available to governments, likely in Benton, Marshall and Tippah counties. Among eligible infrastructure that was destroyed was a Mississippi Department of Transportation office in Ashland, the Three Forks volunteer fire station in Tippah County and power lines owned by public utilities and cooperatives.

Public assistance means the federal government would give money to rebuild damaged facilities, plus help pay for emergency response and debris removal.

National Weather Service hydrologist Marty Pope said flood crests on the Lower Mississippi below the mouth of the Arkansas River won't set overall records, but will probably be the highest ever recorded in winter.

Flooding is predicted in low-lying areas near Tunica, Greenville, Vicksburg and Fort Adams. Greg Raimondo, a spokesman for the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the district plans to activate its flood-fighting plan on Jan. 1, increasing patrols along levees, looking for sand boils, seepage and landslides.

"We're looking at water stretching from levee to levee," Pope said.

That means that inhabited areas on the river side of levees, as well as ports and casinos, could face impacts. Mississippi Gaming Commission Executive Director Allen Godfrey said casinos could face flooding in parking lots and the lower level of garages, but he said gambling halls would probably stay open unless local authorities closed access roads.

The river is predicted to crest in Memphis on Jan. 9, with the peak water traveling downstream to Natchez by Jan. 18.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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