Storms sweeping through Mississippi had Dalvia Lowery worried about the kids she helps look after at Love and Learn Day Care in downtown Crawford.
Because, she said, as storms are hitting the area more often, there is no storm shelter in town to protect those children, or anybody, from harm.
“It’s just a scary, uncertain time not really having a shelter, somewhere you can go and feel really safe,” Lowery said.
Crawford Mayor Deane Parsons shares that concern. She remembers the tornado from a few years ago that crushed a mobile home, killing the man living inside. Storms like that have seeded fear in the community, she said.
“You don’t know what day or hour one will actually touch down in Crawford,” Parsons said.
It’s not just Crawford — there is only one storm shelter in Lowndes County west of the Tombigbee River, according to county officials.
That one is a small concrete shelter at the District 5 county road department barn off Highway 45 a few miles west of Columbus, Road Manager Ronnie Burns said.
“It’s not very big,” Burns said. “It’ll fit 15 people or so. You could maybe squeeze 20 in there.”
More than 4,000 mobile homes are spread across Lowndes County, 65 percent of which are located in the western communities, District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith said.
“With no designated locations for (storm shelters), it could be an uncomfortable situation, at best, in the community,” he said.
Smith called on the county board of supervisors Wednesday to explore ways to fund for storm shelters in west Lowndes County. He proposed to build a storm shelter in the old Crawford Elementary School gym, where renovation is now underway.
The county received $350,000 to revamp the gym in early January as part of a bond package the state Legislature passed last year, said Parks and Recreation Department Director Roger Short. The project is estimated to cost $300,000 and is expected to be completed by May, just in time for the summer day camp program to be held there, he said.
When asked by supervisors if there’s a possibility to build a storm shelter inside the gym, Short said the money left in the bond package may be far from enough to cover the cost, especially when compared to similar facilities built in neighboring counties.
“(The Starkville storm shelter) is a $2 million project for 9,000 square feet,” Short said. “Even if we end up with $50,000 left over, I don’t think it’s feasible to do it with $50,000.”
Smith said the county may have to look at other options, such as building multiple smaller storm shelters at a lesser price. “I think we just need to continue to do our homework to see what is going to be the best approach, feasibility-wise, to doing this,” he said.
Roof leaking at coroner’s office
Also suffering from the recent rainfall is the county coroner’s office, which is housed in a big office complex in East Columbus. Coroner Greg Merchant told the supervisors Wednesday that he has found five roof leaks over the past weeks in his 1,200-square-foot office area. The office has two full-time employees, he said.
“Right now, we are experiencing some tremendous leaks,” Merchant said. “It’s going to get worse,” he told The Dispatch.
Merchant said the already aging roof further eroded in the heavy rain.
“I think it’s just lived its life,” he said.
The building is now about 40 to 50 years old and is primarily used as a warehouse, said Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
“I don’t know that the roof has ever been repaired or replaced,” he said.
Sanders said fixing the roof would be a joint effort between the Columbus and county governments, since the building is jointly owned by the two entities. The cost would be split evenly.
David Armstrong, chief operating officer for the city, said Merchant has yet to bring the issue before the city council, but the city would be happy to work with the county.
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.