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Utility providers, MEMA play key roles...

Utility providers, MEMA play key roles in restoration efforts following March tornadoes

By: Anne Summerhays - June 15, 2023
A woman walks near an uprooted tree, a flipped vehicle and debris from homes damaged by a tornado, Monday, March 27, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A woman walks near an uprooted tree, a flipped vehicle and debris from homes damaged by a tornado, Monday, March 27, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Atmos Energy, C Spire, and Entergy as well as MEMA discuss recovery efforts in Mississippi counties working to rebuild homes, businesses, and communities.

Three months following severe storms and tornadoes that destroyed homes, businesses and public spaces in Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll, and Monroe counties, restoration measures are still underway.

Stephen McCraney, Executive Director of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), said that from the very beginning, MEMA has explained that this recovery will take “months and even years.” He added that they have been working closely with the survivors, cities, and counties.

“The state continues to support emergency sheltering in hotels, but our goal is to get those residents into a FEMA temporary housing unit or transition them back to their homes. The whole community is needed to rebuild,” McCraney said. “All of these are needed, from volunteers to faith-based organizations, businesses, and government support to ensure a successful recovery.”

Bobby Morgan, Vice President of Public Affairs at Atmos Energy, said on the night the tornadoes touched down, to ensure the safety of the citizens of Rolling Fork, Atmos immediately shut off gas to the city.

“The very next morning we began working on restoring service to critical need facilities and were able to make gas service available to the hospital, the schools, and fire department,” Morgan said. “Today, Atmos Energy continues to work tirelessly to restore gas service to homes and businesses as safely as possible in Rolling Fork. We have restored service to more than half of our active customers, performing more than $2 million worth of work rebuilding our natural gas infrastructure.”

There are several steps customers must take to have their gas service restored:

  1. Notify Atmos Energy that you are interested in re-establishing natural gas service, then an estimated timeline of service availability will be provided.
  2. In the meantime, please ensure that a licensed plumber has checked that your piping is free of leaks and your appliances are properly vented and in good working order.
  3. Atmos Energy will work to restore natural gas service to your street and run a new service line to your home if needed.
  4. Once natural gas is available at your address, we will send an Atmos Representative to set your meter then inspect & light your appliances.

Atmos Energy recently contributed $100,000 to the Community Foundation of Washington County to assist with the long-term rebuilding efforts of Rolling Fork. In the immediate days following the tornado, they contributed $50,000 to American Red Cross to Rolling Fork and Amory for short term needs in both cities. 

Alan Jones, Chief Network Officer at C Spire, said they are deeply committed to protecting the communities they serve with the highest communications reliability during severe weather and disasters – when they need it most. He explained that during the devastating tornado in March, they marshalled their emergency response resources to help all communities that were impacted. 

“In Rolling Fork and Silver City, there was no service disruption, and all C Spire cell sites stayed on throughout the storm,” Jones stated. “We also added additional capacity to ensure faster internet speeds for all recovery efforts. Because the Sharkey 911 Center uses our VoIP service, our C Spire teams were able to forward that to the Warren County 911 Center at the request of local emergency management service officials to maintain communications.”

Additionally, C Spire delivered hotspots and wireless routers to local EMS and first responders. In Amory, the company deployed a cell on wheels (COW) to restore service from a tower that was knocked down, as well as three additional cells to help with wireless coverage across town.

“Our C Spire team also delivered an emergency 1 gig circuit to Monroe County MEMA EOC and added a public WiFi hotspot in the area for emergency staging purposes,” Jones continued. “Additionally, we delivered backhaul services to our competitor’s COW for increased service recovery to residents who are not on C Spire’s wireless network. It was a hugely successful team effort to help people during a major catastrophe.”

Candace Coleman, Communications Specialist at Entergy Mississippi, noted that the effects of the March storms significantly disrupted customers’ lives in Rolling Fork, Silver City and Winona. 

“And we got to work as soon as it was safe to do so, restoring power and providing support through our mobile customer information center. As damage assessment deployed, we supplied personal battery banks to customers, and a generator to the National Guard Armory,” Coleman stated. “Despite the extensive damage after the storms, our crews were able to restore power to all customers who could safely receive it within a week of the storm. 

Engineers and construction experts also collaborated to identify opportunities to strengthen the grid and prepare Rolling Fork for greater resiliency during future storms. 

“These efforts included installing energy efficient LED streetlights; moving a few power lines closer towards Highway 61 for better accessibility; and building better wire configuration so the town could be served from new feeders,” Coleman explained. “In Winona, the substation that usually powers the town was destroyed by the catastrophic weather. As part of our storm hardening efforts, Entergy Mississippi has four mobile substations ready to deploy when severe weather compromises our substations, and one of them has been powering the town since the tornado struck. Repairs to our permanent substation are approximately 60% complete, and we expect to be serving all customers from the substation by early August.”

Entergy provided immediate assistance to the impacted communities through a $100,000 commitment to the American Red Cross. In addition, Entergy shareholders matched employee donations to the American Red Cross up to $50,000.

“The storms happened just before Entergy Mississippi’s 100th anniversary, and the company centered the moment around serving Mississippi Delta customers. Employee volunteers packed 2,500 boxes of red beans, rice and spices during a meal-packing partnership with Extra Table; and collected donations to be distributed to tornado survivors by Goodwill Industries,” Coleman said. 

Entergy Mississippi’s legal teams are also working with the American Bar Association to provide pro bono help to tornado survivors through the Disaster Legal Services program. 

The free legal help hotline assists customers with navigating crucial resources such as property insurance claims, and disability-related access to disaster programs. 

“In addition, we’ve committed $10,000 to post-disaster recovery trainings to equip community leaders and survivors with knowledge to effectively navigate FEMA applications and appeals, and avoid contractor fraud,” the Entergy Mississippi Communications Specialist said. “Giving back to communities through philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy is integral to Entergy Mississippi’s purpose of powering life today and for future generations.”

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) told Magnolia Tribune this week that 435 survivors remain in 29 hotels. As of May 26, 2023, FEMA reportedly helped more than 3,500 households with disaster assistance. Federal support for households totaled over $28 million.

More than $10.3 million in FEMA Individual and Households Program grants have been awarded to eligible homeowners and renters in Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, Montgomery, Panola and Sharkey counties. These grants help pay for uninsured and underinsured losses and storm-related damage, including:

  • More than $6.3 million in housing grants to help pay for home repair, home replacement and rental assistance for temporary housing, and
  • Nearly $4 million in Other Needs Assistance grants to help pay for personal property replacement and other serious storm-related needs, such as moving and storage fees, transportation, childcare, and medical and dental expenses.

“Additionally, the Small Business Administration has approved more than $17.7 million in long-term, low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and non-profit organizations – to repair, rebuild or replace disaster-damaged physical property and to cover economic injury,” FEMA said.

The state and FEMA have staffed and operated six fixed-location Disaster Recovery Centers and six Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers. By the end of May, centers tallied more than 7,600 visitors. Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams canvassed storm-impacted neighborhoods in every designated county. Teams helped survivors apply for assistance, helped identify unmet needs, and made referrals to other agencies and local nonprofits. They visited homes, businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

DSA personnel visited over 13,900 homes, interacting with more than 10,000 people.

As for community support, FEMA’s cost-sharing Public Assistance program includes reimbursing counties and municipalities for at least 75% of eligible costs of disaster-related debris removal. 

“Contractors for county and city governments have cleared more than 1 million cubic yards of debris,” FEMA said. “Monitoring the work for FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that nearly 90% of that work has been completed, including 100% debris removal in Carroll, Montgomery and Panola counties.”

About the Author(s)
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Anne Summerhays

Anne Summerhays is a recent graduate of Millsaps College where she majored in Political Science, with minors in Sociology and American Studies. In 2021, she joined Y’all Politics as a Capitol Correspondent. Prior to making that move, she interned for a congressional office in Washington, D.C. and a multi-state government relations and public affairs firm in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, Summerhays received a Legislative Fellowship with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi where she worked with an active member of the Mississippi Legislature for the length of session. She has quickly established trust in the Capitol as a fair, honest, and hardworking young reporter. Her background in political science helps her cut through the noise to find and explain the truth. Email Anne: