September 21, 2019 9:59:39 PM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Five months after initially ruling there would be no federal funds provided to private property owners in Lowndes County whose homes or businesses were damaged by the Feb. 23 tornado and flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that those funds will be available after all.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency had appealed FEMA's initial decision in April, and Governor Phil Bryant's office announced Friday that the appeal was granted. The announcement includes funds for eight Mississippi counties, most of which were affected by the February floods.
The Feb. 23 tornado ripped primarily through north and central Columbus, damaging or destroying 275 homes and 38 businesses.
Lowndes County Emergency Services Director Cindy Lawrence said local officials don't yet know how much money the county will receive. She'll be meeting with local government and charities involved in the recovery on Monday to put together a plan for processing and distributing the funds.
"Right now, there are so many questions we need answers for," Lawrence said. "We do know we'll be coordinating the funds, but exactly what that will look like, we don't know right now."
At least some of the funds earmarked for Lowndes County will likely go to assist Community Recovery of Lowndes County, a nonprofit formed under the umbrella of United Way of Lowndes County to assist individuals with damaged homes after the tornado.
"One of the things that stood out to me when I heard the news was that we've had people we have had to turn away that will likely be included in this," organization chair Nicole Clinkscales said. "With the grant we had from MEMA, we couldn't help renters, for example. Our grant also was limited to buying materials. So this will really open up a lot of other kinds of assistance. This is huge."
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said in an email to media he was "thrilled" with the news.
"This will open up additional resources through the federal government that will directly benefit residents that have also been working with local groups including churches, private groups, the United Way and Community Recovery of Lowndes County," he said. "We will know more about the process in coming weeks and will offer assistance through each step of the process."
Lawrence said those seeking funds should go to www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance to begin the application process.
"This is going to help a lot of people," she said. "It's great news for our community."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]