FEMA checks coming, but flood victims on hold|[05/20/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cleanup continues in areas most affected by Mississippi River flooding and FEMA checks could be issued by as early as the end of the week – but officials say long-term solutions to the housing problem facing residents in proposed buyout neighborhoods are still months away.

“They got us out here on a limb,” said Robert Smith, whose Ford Road was heavily damaged when floodwaters crept up to about 4 feet inside.

Smith said he has been told the electricity will not be turned back on at the home he built in 1955 unless he raises it on stilts.

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“They said they could put a pole up for me to have light enough to clean up, but they won’t turn the electricity back on in the home,” said Smith, who is staying with a stepson in Vicksburg. “What kind of sense does that make?”

Of the 29 residences in Vicksburg that had electricity cut during flooding, 25 are still without power, said city communications manager Barry Graham.

An ordinance adopted in Vicksburg and Warren County in 2003 bars a building permit from being issued or utilities being turned on at any home with flood damages exceeding 50 percent of the appraised value.

While Federal Emergency Management Agency individual assistance is available to individuals, representatives have said money will not be made available to help elevate homes. The city and county are proposing a buyout of neighborhoods that flood repeatedly, but many residents say they cannot afford to leave their homes or simply do not want to.

Flood infoDonations to the flood victims fund can be mailed to Triumph Baptist Church in care of the Kings, Ford, Waltersville and Chickasaw Neighborhood Association at 124 Pittman Road, Vicksburg, MS 39180.To register with FEMA for assistance visit the Kings Empowerment Center at 224 RL Chase Circle, call 1-800-621-3362, or register online at www.fema.gov. Representatives are in Kings Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.Red Cross assistance is available by calling 601-636-9182 and scheduling a damage assessment.Information on the city’s buyout program is available at 601-634-4525, or at the city’s planning department office at 819 South St. County residents can call 601-631-8807, or visit the county emergency management office in the basement of the courthouse.”Why buy out when we can fix it up?” said James Kinnard, who spent Monday afternoon cleaning out his mother’s home on Ford Road. “Nobody wants to move out.”

Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman said 12 residents of Chickasaw Road, Old Twin Lake Road and Mississippi 465 have expressed interest in the buyout. Beatrice Moore, of the Vicksburg planning department, said five residents in the city have applied for the program. Both said they will be submitting the applications to MEMA in the coming weeks, at which point a review process will begin and FEMA will become involved.

“This is not a quick process,” said Coleman. “I’d say it will be at least six months before anything is finalized.”

Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens has said he hopes to have at least 25 homes bought out and demolished in the city within six months.

A group of ministries is collecting money for flood victims to address short-term and long-term needs. Triumph Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Dexter Jones said about $10,000 has been collected thus far, en route to a goal of raising $100,000. Jones said he does not know yet if the money will be spent to elevate homes that have been more than 50 percent damaged.

“We want to help everybody, and not just one or two people. I don’t know what the costs are going to be (to elevate homes), so I can’t say yes or no right now,” he said. “We’re kind of in a freeze, waiting to see what the city and county are going to do with the buyouts before we start spending a lot of money.”

Meanwhile, piles of debris – everything from mattresses and furniture to children’s toys and clothing – line the streets most affected by flooding. Graham said the city and Waste Management have been asked to leave the debris until FEMA can make all individual home assessments. However, FEMA spokesman Jody Correro said it’s not necessary.

“The debris can be removed at any time; we don’t need to see it,” he said. “It’s a health hazard.”

Correro said relief checks can be cut two to three days following a home inspection, which can take place as early as the same day as a resident registers with FEMA.

The Mississippi River surpassed flood stage of 43 feet at Vicksburg on March 29, and crested at 50.9 feet on April 19 – the highest water stage recorded at the city since the river topped out at 51.6 feet in 1973.