Federal, state officials touring today|[04/21/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2008

Governor among group studying four river counties

The first step toward obtaining federal money for victims of the 2008 flood were to be taken today, as damage assessment teams comprised of local, state and federal emergency management officials began touring Warren and three other riverside counties.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials originally speculated assessments would not be made until after the floodwaters subside, but that could take a month, and a spokesman said the process needs to get started as soon as possible.

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“They’d like to wait,” said Jeff Rent, MEMA spokesman. “Obviously they could get a clearer picture of the damage once the water has receded, but this has been going on for three weeks now and these people need assistance now.”

The Mississippi River at Vicksburg has crested, according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, at 50.9 feet. A crest of 50.8 feet was reported by the forecast center Saturday. It has been more than three weeks since the river surpassed flood stage of 43 feet at the city. Today the river remained at 50.9 feet, and it is not expected to start falling until Thursday.

Gov. Haley Barbour was to tour flooded areas along the river today, and was to make a stop at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport late this morning. The governor’s office will play a role in the process of securing federal relief money for victims of the flood if it becomes available.

“When the assessment team is done touring the county, they compile numbers of estimated damage with which we write up a report and give it to the governor to submit to FEMA and the president as a request for assistance,” said Rent.

Assessment teams could be in Warren, Washington, Wilkinson and Bolivar counties for up to three days, said Rent. Once a report is compiled and submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there is no telling how long it could take to get an answer for relief requests. It took Hinds County two weeks following the tornadoes that struck on April 4 to hear back from FEMA that it would not receive federal funds. The county is currently challenging FEMA on the ruling.

The damage assessment teams will be looking at residential and small business damage only. In Vicksburg, city officials estimated 145 people have been displaced from 101 residences.

Warren County, however, also has an estimated 160,000 acres of land under water — much of which is farmland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will handle any requests for federal assistance from local farmers. Again, the formal request would have to be made through the governor’s office. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture could not be reached for comment on whether a damage assessment process of crops will be initiated in Warren County and the state.

Since the river at Vicksburg topped flood stage of 43 feet on March 29:

An estimated 304,000 acres of forest and cropland are flooded in the Yazoo backwater area, according the Vicksburg District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An additional 100,000 acres are expected to go under water before the Steele Bayou Control Structure can be opened in mid-May.

Roughly 1,100 employees of LeTourneau Technologies remained laid off as the road to the riverside offshore rig construction site is under water and has been closed since Tuesday, April 8.

A temporary Red Cross shelter opened Wednesday, April 16 at the Church of Christ on North Frontage Road, was closed Friday. The shelter took in two residents. A similar shelter at Calvary Baptist Church on Warriors Trail was open for10 days beginning April 1, and had served as a refuge for up to 12 residents of Ford subdivision.

Crossties are in place at all openings on the Vicksburg floodwall, closing off City Front.

Roadways in Vicksburg and Warren County covered with water and closed include Williams Street, Ford Road, Eva Street, Chickasaw Road, Long Lake Road, Thompson Lake Road, Kings Point Road, LeTourneau Road and Mississippi 465.

Mississippi RiverTODAY’S STAGE50.9 feet SaturdayROSE: No changeFLOOD STAGE: 43 feetSTEELE BAYOU:Landside: 91.0Riverside: 100.1Flood PhotosSlideshow of All Photos