A severe weather system ripped across Mississippi in the early morning hours of January 21, 2017. The system affected the southern portion of the state primarily, with a confirmed tornado touchdown in Lamar, Forrest and Perry Counties. The Forrest County Coroner confirmed there were four killed and multiple injured due to the violent weather/tornado. A second severe weather system moved through the overnight hours causing known damages and one known injury in Lauderdale County.
Gov. Phil Bryant declared a State of Emergency and signed an executive order to authorize use of the National Guard on January 21st.
On January 25, Gov. Phil Bryant announced that President Donald Trump declared Forrest, Lamar, Lauderdale and Perry counties federal disaster areas.
Approved in this disaster declaration are:
- Individual Assistance- Grants to individuals and households.
- Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (Statewide).
- Public Assistance.
Please do not wait to register for assistance either online or by phone. Anyone with damages in these counties may apply by calling 1-800-621-3362 or register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov which is video relay service accessible. Make sure to register for assistance before visiting a Disaster Recover Center (DRC) in order to speed up your assistance process. Information about DRC addresses and hours are available below.
Make sure to have all of this information ready when you apply:
- Information you will be asked to provide:
- Social Security number (one per household)
- Address of the damaged home or apartment
- Description of the damage
- Information about insurance coverage
- Telephone number
- Mailing address
- Bank account & routing numbers for direct deposit of funds
Federal disaster assistance for qualified applicants may include:
- Grants to rent a temporary place to live as needed.
- Grants for essential home repairs not covered by insurance.
- Grants for serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance — such as medical, dental, transportation, funeral expenses, moving and storage fees, personal property loss, and child care.
- Low-interest disaster loans from SBA to homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes to cover losses not fully compensated by insurance.
MEMA and FEMA want to remind those receiving grant payments to spend those funds wisely. Grant money that is not used on housing repairs and other essential needs may need to be repaid and recipients could lose eligibility for any further financial help from FEMA.
- Housing Assistance grants are intended for basic housing repairs, including repairs to a septic system or private well. These funds can be used for short-term rental payments or to reimburse hotel/motel expenses.
- Other Needs Assistance grants are intended to help replace essential personal property and meet disaster-related medical, dental and funeral expenses. The money may be used to repair or replace a car damaged by the disaster and to replace work-related tools.
Most FEMA disaster grants are deposited electronically to the applicant’s bank account. A follow-up letter explains how the money should be spent.
If grant money is not used as outlined in the letter, a recipient may have to repay FEMA and could lose eligibility for further help. These grants should not be used for luxury goods, such as flat-screen televisions, video games or other entertainment electronics. Grants may be audited, so survivors should keep receipts for three years to document disaster assistance.
Disaster Recovery Centers:
The MEMA/FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Forrest County will no longer be open Saturdays. New hours of operation at the center are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, effectively immediately.
The center also is tentatively set to close at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
- C. E. Roy Community Center
300 E. 5th Street, Hattiesburg, MS 39401
Hours: Mondays – Fridays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The Greater PineBelt Community Foundation is accepting monetary donations to help those in need. Donations can be made directly through the website: www.PineBeltFoundation.org. Please indicate the name of the Fund in the message line.
The United Way of Southeast Mississippi is also accepting monetary donations, which can be made through their website: http://www.unitedwaysems.org/give.
Volunteering and In Kind Donations:
Volunteer Hattiesburg/United Way of Southeast MS is posting immediate needs, opportunities and donation collection points on their website and social media platforms – http://www.unitedwaysems.org and @unitedwaysems respectively.
Volunteers and volunteer groups alike should coordinate all activities through the two Volunteer Response Centers (VRC) so that response is most efficient. The following VRCs are open:
- Hattiesburg VRC, coordinated by Volunteer Mississippi and the Knights of Columbus
Location: East Jerusalem Baptist Church
Address: 410 S. Tipton St. Hattiesburg, MS 39401
Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Petal Volunteer Response Center
Location: Petal Civic Center
Address: 712A S. Main Street, Petal
Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Work Orders will be facilitated through the Forrest County Emergency Management Agency and Crisis Cleanup so volunteers have a consistent flow of work.
Private Property Debris Removal:
If trees and other debris have fallen on private property, the first thing property owners should do is check with their insurance agents to determine if the debris removal is covered by insurance.
FEMA does not reimburse private property owners for the cost of removing debris from their property; however, your local government may pick up and dispose of disaster-related debris placed at the public right-of-way.
Call your local emergency management agency to find out if this is the case in your area. For a list of local emergency management offices, visit http://www.msema.org/local-ema/.
If a homeowner or property owner hires a contractor to clear debris, the contractor must haul it away and not just move it to the right-of-way.
A number of non-profit and voluntary organizations are in Mississippi to help with the cleanup effort. People who need help removing debris from their property should contact their county emergency management office.
If you place debris at the right-of-way for pickup, divide it into the following categories:
- Household garbage;
- Construction debris;
- Vegetative debris;
- Household hazardous waste;
- White goods such as refrigerators and dryers; and
Certain types of debris may be hazardous and should not be handled by private property owners. When in doubt, follow the direction of your local emergency manager.
You may also be able to get financial assistance for debris removal through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s low-interest disaster loan program. The SBA phone number is 800-659-2955.
While debris removal from agricultural land is not eligible for FEMA funding, it may be eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture funding. For further information, contact your local Farm Service Agency office.
SBA Business Recovery Center:
An SBA Business Recovery Center (BRC) is now at the C.E. Roy Community Center, 300 E. 5th Street in Hattiesburg. The center is open to help businesses affected by the Jan. 21 storms and tornadoes. Hours are: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
SBA representatives at the BRC provide information about disaster loans, answer questions and help businesses in completing the SBA application. The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is March 27. The deadline to return economic injury applications is October 25. Businesses and private nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets. Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible up to $40,000 to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed personal property.
Disaster Legal Services
- A Disaster Legal Services hotline is now available to storm survivors in Forrest, Lamar, Lauderdale, and Perry counties.
- The toll free number is 877-691-6185.
- Survivors may now call the hotline between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- Local legal aid providers will be available to help with the following:
- Assistance securing FEMA and other government benefits available to disaster victims;
- Assistance with life, medical, and property insurance claims;
- Help with home repair contracts and contractors;
- Replacement of wills and other important legal documents lost or destroyed in the disaster;
- Consumer protections such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process;
- Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and
- Counseling on landlord-tenant problems
- The hotline is provided by the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar.