If severe weather hits, people west of the river have nowhere to go. District 4 Lowndes County Supervisor Jeff Smith wants his constituents to know that he is working to change that.
“We are in a vulnerable situation,” Smith said. “… We have got so many mobile homes and manufactured houses out here, and people have nowhere to go.”
Smith’s remarks came Tuesday night during a community meeting at the Crawford Community Center. About 20 people attended.
Smith, who has been vocal in the past about the lack of storm shelters in western Lowndes County, has asked that the second phase of the planned county sportsplex include a gymnasium that can double as a storm shelter. There are currently shelters at New Hope High School, Caledonia School and the Career and Technical Center — all east of the Tombigbee River.
At least one member of the crowd noticed the campus that was missing from that list.
“Is it possible we can add one at the West Lowndes campus for the kids while they are at school?” asked Artesia Mayor Jimmy Sanders, who was in the audience.
Smith declined to answer, instead yielding the floor to Lowndes County School District board member Jacqueline Gray, who was also in attendance.
“There are no discussions right now about building a new gym at West Lowndes,” she said, noting that the shelters at New Hope and Caledonia are incorporated into the gymnasiums there.
Sanders asked Smith if he would consider shifting the potential storm shelter from the sports complex — which is directly across Highway 82 from the West Lowndes campus — to the school itself.
“I don’t see that as being a realistic possibility,” Smith said.
Gray said a new structure wouldn’t fit on the school’s footprint.
“There is no land on that campus to build a new gym,” she said. “It’s landlocked. If you go out there and look, it’s all taken up by the high school.”
Crawford Mayor Deane Parson voiced concern about seniors who are homebound.
“There are a lot of seniors who live in trailers, and are bed-bound,” she said. “… We have about 30 seniors who are bed-bound and in wheelchairs. We need a way to assist them.”
Parson estimated that there were about 300 mobile homes in the Crawford area.
Smith said there used to be a program to incentivize people to build shelters.
“There was a program that gave a tax credit to homeowners for storm shelters as an incentive,” Smith said. “Several years ago, under a different governor, Mississippi did away with that. One of the things that the (Mississippi Association of Supervisors) is discussing is revisiting that concept to assist people who are trying to purchase those things themselves.”
Smith also said that he was working with Lowndes County Emergency Management to get funding from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for community storm shelters.
“We have an application in with MEMA for three safe rooms,” he said. “They’ve got to be built on government property, so the three locations that were identified were (community centers at) Crawford, Artesia and Plum Grove. Unfortunately, because we are so spread out we couldn’t build more.”
Smith said that he hoped the safe rooms would hold around 150 people apiece.
“They vary in size, but the larger ones hold 150 to 200 people,” he said. “We have space, there is other acreage besides the community center and the fire station and the gym that the county owns. It won’t be a problem (to find space). I promise you (small shelters) aren’t on my radar. I assure you of that.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.