By Russell Hood The Webster Progress-Times
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornado outbreak that struck Webster County, killing one person and wiping out East Webster High School’s campus. Three tornadoes tracked across parts of the county during a 12-hour period on April 27, 2011, according to the National Weather Service. The first, a mile-wide EF-3 tornado with winds that reached 140 miles an hour, began about 2:30 a.m. It touched down in Choctaw, Webster, Clay and Chickasaw counties. The second, an EF-2, began less than 10 minutes later and the third, an EF-1, hit about 3 p.m. Mike Rogers, 49, of Ticky Bend Road was killed that morning after a tree fell on his house. At least 15 people were injured in the county, which was declared a federal disaster area. More than 200 structures, including residences, were damaged, with 20 homes, mobile homes and businesses destroyed. Two churches had damage. Road crews, volunteer firefighters, loggers with skidders and heavy equipment, and other volunteers responded within minutes, clearing roads and yards of trees and debris, checking for injured and assessing damage. Emergency Medical Services assisted the injured, law enforcement provided traffic control and other assistance, and power crews worked for a week restoring electricity. Churches from all over Webster and surrounding counties provided food and supplies for emergency workers/volunteers and storm victims. In a letter to the editor published the following week in this newspaper acknowledging the outpouring of support and caring, then- District 5 Supervisor Charles McClelland and District 4 Supervisor Paul Crowley wrote, “We have a long road to recovery and cleanup ahead of us but we will make it because we have good people in this area and this entire county. …. The people of Webster County are great people, and we thank you for everything you do.” Federal assistance to individuals in the county who suffered losses from the storms and tornadoes of April 2011 totaled nearly $700,000 when registration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency closed last June. EWHS Damage One of that morning’s tornadoes hit East Webster High’s campus in Cumberland. “Basically we are wiped out,” Principal Bill Brand told a reporter afterwards. “Our softball field and softball building were the only things that weren’t damaged. Other than that we’re pretty much starting over.” The school relocated to and remains at the former Wood College campus in Mathiston. At Cumberland, the original auditorium building and the office building have since been demolished. The campus also now has four new tennis courts and a new dugout on the baseball field. Bids are to opened at 2 p.m. Tuesday for construction of a new school and taken up by the School Board that night. This excludes the gymnasium, which will be bid separately. School district officials have said they expect the new school to be ready for move-in by August 2013. Healing Back, Debris Cleanup “The county looks like it’s starting to heal back good and people are trying to get on with their lives,” county Emergency Management Director Barry Rushing said earlier this week. He again thanked all of the volunteer fire departments, local volunteers and others in and out of state who assisted in the response following the storm. District 4’s Crowley said he remembers calling Rushing about 4 a.m. that day “to get MEMA (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) in because we’re in trouble.” “We had experienced something that Webster County had never experienced,” the supervisor said. Crowley noted that more than 90,000 yards of debris has since been removed (through a contractor), and that the debris cleanup has been completed working through MEMA, FEMA and the consulting firm of H2O Partners. “I never dreamed that we would be as far toward recovery at this point as we are,” he said. “So many people are back in their homes and trying to get back to normality as much as possible. … Our local people decided to do this.” He also pointed out how the rest of the county board supported districts 4 and 5, and that “our local people were so receptive of the cleanup.” Crowley said the Board of Supervisors “did what we needed to do to get a line of credit to operate on (for debris cleanup).” Supervisors voted March 5 to extend repayment of that credit line with Regions Bank for one year. After meeting with Keith Mitchell of Regions on April 16, they voted to enter into a contract with the bank for renewal of the remaining balance of its disaster loan at 2.18 percent interest. The county had borrowed $1.4 million and the remaining balance is about $325,000. “We’re in the process of trying to get FEMA and MEMA completely satisfied to close down the process,” Crowley said.