By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Several Mississippi communities are working toward recovery one month after tornadoes devastated small towns like and Smithville.
Extensive debris cleanup just began in the Cumberland area, where crews will be working six days a week removing tree limbs and other trash from the side of the roads until all the debris is gone. A committee has been formed to deal with long-term recovery in the area, which could take several months to several years.
“I think it’s a little bit early to put a time line on when we expect to get back to normal,” Jimmy Forrester, the public information officer for Webster County Emergency Management, said.
FEMA and MEMA officials were on site Friday to assess the damage at East Webster High School from the tornado that destroyed the property in April.
While most of the debris has been removed, the school has a long way to go. The main building and the gym suffered extensive damage in the storm, but Webster County Superintendent of Education Jimmy Pittman said it will be months before the architectural work begins.
“Right now, we’re in the process of working with our insurance company, FEMA and MEMA,” Pittman said. “It’s a slow process and we’re going to have to be patient with it. We’ll have to look at their numbers and go from there.”
They can’t start repairs until the funding comes in from the insurance company, which will likely take several more months.
In Smithville, nearly 50 percent of the estimated 23,000 tons of debris has been removed, but residents still have a long way to go.
“Smithville is farther out than other areas that had less damage,” said FEMA Public Information Officer Michael McCurdy. “The one thing we’re working on right now is getting people into housing until they get back on their feet.”
FEMA usually tries to get disaster victims into rental housing, but Smithville sustained so much damage that it was not an option. Instead, FEMA provided 27 mobile homes that come equipped with appliances and other necessities to families who lost everything in the storm.
More than $8 million in federal assistance was given to individuals affected by the storms in Mississippi, most of which has gone toward personal needs and housing expenses, including temporary rental assistance, home repair and assistance toward replacing destroyed homes. Monroe County residents received over $888,000 in assistance, and Webster County received over $427,000.
Individuals affected by the April 15-28 tornadoes and major storms must register for federal disaster assistance at http://www.disasterassistance.gov  or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA by June 28.
“We want all Mississippi residents and business owners affected by the disaster to call or go online to register before the deadlines pass,” said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Womack.
Twenty-nine counties have submitted applications for assistance by the June 28 deadline for the April tornadoes.
Even those who were forced to relocate after the storms should register for assistance through FEMA or a Mississippi Disaster Recovery Center. There are two Disaster Recovery Centers listed in the area, one at the Pheba voting precinct at 21523 Hwy. 50 West and the other in Amory at 1619 Highland Dr. The centers offer other needs assistance — medical bills related to the disaster or funeral assistance. Additional services include IRS assistance, hazard mitigation, teleregistration information, disaster unemployment assistance, Small Business Association business home loans and housing assistance. Both locations are open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
FEMA hazard mitigation specialists are on hand at these centers, as well as building supply stores and public events, to provide information about ways to rebuild that can reduce the risk of damages from future disasters.
“We urge all survivors to register for federal disaster assistance immediately,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Terry L. Quarles. “After registering, keep in touch with FEMA if you move or have any questions about your disaster assistance by calling FEMA’s toll-free number and pressing the help line option.”
There are also 36 counties across Mississippi that are eligible for public assistance reimbursement for the local governments through cost-sharing grants from FEMA. These grants help communities recover from storms and flooding by paying for emergency protective measures such as police overtime, debris removal from public roads and permanent repairs to roads, bridges and public buildings. The grants cover at least 75 percent of the approved eligible cost.
Tax relief may be available to business owners as well as individuals who have been affected by the storms. Special tax law provisions may help those affected recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. Details about these and other disaster tax issues can be found on the IRS website http://www.IRS.gov .
FEMA officials are unsure how long it will take communities to fully recover from the tornadoes, but they are working with other organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to complete the task.
“We will be here as long as it takes,” McCurdy said.