Black Hawk, Miss. (Greenwood Commonwealth) – Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann visited Black Hawk and Summerfield Thursday afternoon to discuss next steps as the communities recover from an EF3 tornado that tore through on March 24.
About 20 community members and various city, county, state and federal officials met with Hosemann at the former site of the Black Hawk School and Black Hawk Independent Church.
Bobby Joe Alford, whose mother attended Black Hawk School and whose wife currently is in Black Hawk’s Homemaker’s Club, said he came by just to see the devastation.
He said he was one of the community members who helped make the school into a gathering place for the community later on and played music there for around a decade.
“They act like they want to rebuild it, but I don’t know,” Alford said.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency personnel listened as Alford and others discussed the damage done to the school.
Meanwhile, Hosemann assessed the situation.
“So, how are y’all doing?” he asked residents, offering his hand and introducing himself simply as “Delbert” before pointing out some rubble, noting that “somebody’ll get a nail in the foot” if the county isn’t able to get help to clear the rubble from roads and property.
He listened as homeowners explained their efforts to document their losses and advised them on the process.
The most important factor at this point in the disaster recovery process is for “people to come back,” Hosemann said.
“Now, when people are slightly relocated, they go through a natural phase of really being challenged, and it’s important to come back next week and the next week and the next week. It’s a hard process, and that doesn’t go away when we remove all of this,” he explained, motioning to the excavators that were clearing debris from County Road 235 as he spoke.
“There’s a grieving going on,” he added.
The state Legislature, at the end of its most recent session, appropriated $17 million, Hosemann said, to kickstart relief efforts in the areas affected by the tornadoes, included Rolling Fork and Amory in addition to Carroll County.
Currently, the state has allotted roughly $12 million to help schools affected by the tornadoes as well as funds for local hospitals and other institutions, including housing for displaced people. Hosemann said the first home, built under contract with the American Red Cross, went up in Rolling Fork last week.
Hosemann said the business of the next session of the Mississippi Legislature in January will be to appropriate more funds as needed, after the affected areas have been able to gather a correct estimate of what is available and what is still needed.
“We’re here, we’re staying and we’re coming back,” he assured those listening.
“Mississippi is one big neighborhood,” he said.
Hosemann explained that damages are first billed to FEMA and MEMA is expected to produce only 25% of the cost of damages. “The process right now is just to make sure MEMA is here,” he said.
David Shaw, an area coordinator for MEMA who was in Black Hawk on Thursday, said he has met with FEMA officials to discuss recovery efforts. Carlos Martinez, who works in disaster assistance with MEMA, has been coordinating shipments to recovery centers, which offer supplies to those affected by the disaster, volunteer efforts and any other issues homeowners or residents may encounter.
Ken Strachan, the mayor of North Carrollton and Carroll County’s emergency management director, said the focus now is ensuring that people register for disaster relief with FEMA. The deadline is May 25, and recovery centers in-clude J.Z. George High School.
So far, according to Strachan, 465 residents have filed applications. Emergency officials have also been traveling door to door to help those who are unable to travel. “Even if the application gets turned down,” Strachan said, “we can go back over the application, check it and maybe reapply.”
The community remains resilient, in part because of the faith-based volunteers helping to rebuild, he said.
“People are coming together,” he said. “We even had a fire department from Magee — and I thought, ‘Oh, you’re from Magee, Mississippi,’ but they were from McGehee, Arkansas. We’ve had people supplying generators, the Red Cross helping out with hotels and motels to house people, and we have had so many faith-based organizations.
“Last Saturday, we had a church out of Calhoun County, and the lady who was cooking just asked if everyone could pray while we were all gathered eating, and that’s what we’ll do.
“When we’re all gathered around in groups, like we are now,” he said, motioning to the groups of residents, personnel, and media gathered to speak with each other and Hosemann, “we’ll pray.”
Hosemann praised the strength of the community as well, noting efforts such as those of Becky Mitchell, who has been helping run a relief center at K&M Grocery at the corner of Mississippi 430 and Mississippi 17.
“I appreciate people like you around the state,” he said.