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Firefighters, others help after storm

Michael Herring’s duties at the Georgia-Pacific mill have beenon hold this week. As the Loyd Star Volunteer Fire Department’smedical training officer, Herring helped man the station followingSunday’s tornado.

Herring, who also handles emergency medical services trainingand inventory duties at the Monticello facility, said hissupervisors are supportive when his volunteer firefighting dutiescall. He’s not sure, though, how his time off will be counted –whether as vacation days, sick days or some other way.

“We’ll worry about the paperwork later,” Herring saidThursday.

Herring, working in his home area, is one of many volunteerfirefighters from across the county who have helped clear roads ofdowned trees, distributed food to storm victims and relief workers,and assisted emergency management officials in damage assessmentactivities.

J.J. Jones, Loyd Star’s chief, said 61 volunteer firefightersworked in the Loyd Star area from around 9 p.m. Sunday, shortlyafter the tornado struck, until 7 a.m. Monday. That total includedfour East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department firefighters who beganclearing trees in their area on their way to Lincoln County.

“The priority was making sure we didn’t have someone trappedthat we couldn’t get to,” Jones said about the urgent need to clearroads Sunday night and Monday morning.

An average of 20 firefighters a day have been at the station andworking in the community following the initial rush. Helpinghomeowners with storm damage has been the focus in recent days.

“If they called needing assistance, we addressed it as best wecould as fast as we could,” Jones said.

Clifford Galey, Lincoln County Civil Defense director, wasappreciative of volunteers for their weather watching and otherstorm relief efforts.

“I would not be able to do my job without them, period,” Galeysaid.

Galey said damage from Sunday’s tornado was the worst he hadseen in his eight years as civil defense director.

“This time it was the general public affected and not thecounty’s infrastructure,” Galey said.

Galey also acknowledged the sacrifices that many volunteers madein order to help with disaster relief.

“We had people off work, and continuing to be off work, takingvacation time or whatever they need to do, to help us,” Galeysaid.

And some firefighters were not without their own storm-relatedproblems.

“They’re out here helping other folks while their own is beingset on the side,” Herring said.

Jones and his family live on Bouie Mill Road, which was one ofthe hardest-hit areas. He said it was Tuesday afternoon before hegot a tarp over a hole in his roof and got the water turned backon.

“I had to cut trees at my house to get to out to start helpingpeople,” Jones said.

Volunteer firefighters were not the only ones, however, puttingin long hours at the station. Firefighters’ wives and othervolunteers gathered food and prepared it for emergency reliefworkers.

“They’ve been doing an outstanding job of making the meals thathave been served out of this fire station,” Jones said.

Jones estimated at least 300 meals were served at the stationMonday and Tuesday. A list at the station showed 51 churches,organizations or individuals who had dropped off food and otheritems.

“When it was really busy, there could have been somethingdropped off that we just missed,” said Jason Case, volunteerfirefighter.

Jones said the donations represented “local people helping localpeople.”

“The residents of this community pull together better than anycommunity I’ve lived in,” Jones said.

Representatives from the Federal and Mississippi EmergencyManagement Agencies (FEMA and MEMA) and the Small BusinessAdministration (SBA) were coming to Loyd Star Friday morning tobegin a preliminary damage assessment survey.

Their data will be used to determine whether a disasterdeclaration is made by FEMA or the SBA. Galey said data collectionshould be completed by Saturday evening or Sunday.

As the official damage assessment begins, volunteers continue tostaff the station.

“We’ll have someone here until Saturday evening for sure, if notlonger,” Jones said.

Officials said the station will be open as long as needed.

“I’ll be here when they shut it down,” Herring said.