Relief efforts continuing in wake of tornado

Published 6:47 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2010

They put out the call for help in the Yazoo City area as soon asthe tornado passed on.

A few days later, Lincoln County volunteers were there.

A handful of local helpers have been in and out of the centralMississippi disaster area since a huge and powerful tornado tooklives and property there on April 24, and countless more havedonated the treasured items needed to sustain Yazoo families whoare trying to put it all back together. Some local volunteers havesince returned and are waiting for a second call, at least one isstill onsite continuing to guide relief efforts and those who aretrucking donated supplies to the area have plenty more road tripsahead of them.

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Though the cleanup and rebuilding in the Yazoo area has begun,it may be a while before signs of the damage are removed.

Loyd Star’s Mike Herring, a certified disaster servicesresponder with the American Red Cross and life-long firefighter andparamedic, said he’d never seen anything like it.

“What we saw here during (Hurricane) Katrina – son, this wasn’tnothing like I saw last week,” said Herring, 49.

Herring and Brookhaven’s Joann Mazer traveled to Yazoo Citytogether on April 28, three days after the storm hit.

Herring said he was expecting to see damage similar to that donein the 2003 Loyd Star tornado, rated an F2. But the twister thatcut across almost 150 miles of Louisiana and Mississippi on April24 was rated an F4, packing winds in excess of 170 mph and carvingout a path close to two miles wide.

At least 10 people were killed in Mississippi and hundreds ofhomes and businesses were leveled.

“The devastation up there was phenomenal,” Herring said. “I wasexpecting to see something like the Loyd Star tornado, where treeswere destroyed 30 feet up, but in Yazoo the trees were splinteredon the ground. The force of the storm was at ground level. I sawseveral buildings that looked like they had just exploded.”

Herring was still adjusting to the extent of the damage when hebeheld the size of the damage path.

“We went down one road – Highway 13 I thought – and it seemedlike the storm had followed it. We found out later we were crossingfrom one side of the damage path to the other, not following it,”he said. “What you saw on TV just didn’t do it justice – you had tobe there.”

Due to the obscene amount of wreckage in Yazoo City, Herring’sinitial job of damage assessment changed to the Red Cross’ fullpackage, and almost immediately he was serving food to mass groupsand then delivering food, water and even tools to those trying todig into their shattered homes.

“Most people were looking for small things, like pictures,” hesaid. “One lady was looking for her grandfather’s pocket watch, andI remember her saying, ‘Thank God I’m still alive.’ That’s how theyall were. I found no one in that whole area who was upset – theywere all grateful, thanking God to be alive.”

While Herring was on the front lines in Yazoo City for a week,Lincoln County Civil Defense Director and Mississippi Civil DefenseEmergency Management Agency President Clifford Galey was in thecommand post, helping several state and local emergency managerscontrol the situation. He directed search and rescue and assessmentefforts, as well as coordinating the large team of agencies thereto assist Yazoo citizens.

During the course of his week-long stay, Galey not only had tomanage all the responding agencies, but at least once he had tomanage a helicopter load of VIPs.

Several prominent state and federal officials coming to tour thedamage zone in a Blackhawk helicopter were en route to land in theSave-A-Lot parking lot where the command tents were set up, andGaley had to reroute them.

Of course, no one wanted to tell a chopper full of bossmenthey’d have to land three quarters of a mile away, but Galey – everso polite and with reportedly tender words – made the call.

“The wind off a Blackhawk would have wiped out all our commandsposts,” he said.

Galey’s wife, Cindy, returned to the city last week and remainsthere, helping to manage the Federal Emergency Management Agency’sDisaster Recovery Center. Galey said his wife’s task, helpingstorm-affected residents report their damages to appropriateagencies, is a laborious one.

“Each person who comes through, depending on what they need,there could be as many as 12-15 agencies they need to see,” hesaid. ” Some of them may need to go to every agency there.”

While the rebuilding in the Yazoo area begins, countless otherLincoln County residents will send help through volunteers likeBrookhaven’s Joe Fleming, who continues to collect and ship goodsto the area through the Mississippi Commission of VolunteerServices. Fleming stores the goods in his toy store, Just Kiddin’,and Mr. Charley’s Fun Jumps owner Chuck Wallace uses his companytruck to drive the loads into the disaster area.

Fleming and Wallace made one delivery Monday and are takinganother load Wednesday. There’s still room on the truck for food,household goods and personal hygiene products, though no moreclothing is being accepted.

“I saw a lot of devastation,” Fleming said. “People were linedup waiting to do the paperwork to get stuff. You could stand on ahill and look down the path of the tornado and just see blue skyfor miles and miles.”