Mississippi Officials: Feds Came up Short on Jackson Damage Estimates

April 17, 2008

Mississippi officials fear that the federal government’s estimate on damage in Jackson from the April 4 tornadoes will jeopardize chances for federal aid.

Jackson Public Works Director Thelman Boyd said Tuesday that storm damage estimates by the Federal Emergency Management Agency came in much lower than those by the city.

Boyd said the city might not be able to afford private contractor cleanup services if it does not receive federal help.

According to FEMA, Jackson has about $1.65 million worth of debris-removal costs and Hinds County has $586,158. City officials said debris removal and employee overtime costs from Jackson’s estimations were expected to reach $3 million.

To receive public assistance, Mississippi needed to have at least $3.6 million in storm-related costs for things such as debris removal or damage to public buildings. Once the state qualifies, each county applying for assistance would need to meet a threshold of $3.11 multiplied by its per-capita population.

In Hinds County, that figure would amount to about $774,878, according to projections from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Hinds County, however, has a shot at receiving federal individual assistance, which requires the affected area to have 100 uninsured homes with major damage.

Individual assistance allows for grants of up to $26,000 and for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Mike Womack, director of MEMA, said damage assessments revealed 140 uninsured homes were destroyed or had major damage.

A federal declaration may not happen for up to two months, Womack said. No other counties conducted damage assessments to be included in the statewide threshold, he said.

Boyd believes FEMA’s estimates fell short because they did “windshield” assessments by driving up and down roads and not looking at damage in residents’ backyards or in creeks and drainage systems.

He also said FEMA’s estimates of the amount of debris were half that of Jackson’s numbers. FEMA reported about 100,000 cubic yards of debris; Public Works estimated at least 200,000 cubic yards.

Boyd and Womack are working to get additional financial reports to Washington, D.C., to be considered in the state’s application for assistance.

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

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