Sharon Wood went to her Brandon office the morning of April 4 knowing forecasters were predicting some dicey weather in Central Mississippi. But when she tuned in her television at lunchtime, she was shocked at what she saw.
“I just couldn’t believe how fast the storms came, and how widespread they were,” Wood says. “It was in Hinds County, then it was in Madison County, then it was in Rankin County. The storms seemed to be everywhere. I was caught completely off guard.”
Wood is an insurance agent with GuideOne, and as with other Jackson-area insurance agents, her phones started ringing before the storm had even cleared the area. By the time she locked her office door April 4, she and her colleagues had fielded dozens of claims calls from all over the metro Jackson area, and they were still calling April 7.
“Quick” and “unexpected” are the common words used by those who weathered the destructive storms. However, while the storm system caused major business interruptions from loss of power and travel woes, it created opportunities for some others.
As the numbers began to roll in April 4 and in the days following the storm, it became clear that Central Mississippi, particularly the metro Jackson area, had seen a natural disaster of historical proportions. Central District Public Service Commissioner toured the area and found “the damage is worse than after Katrina” in some areas. And Larry Fisher, emergency operations director in Hinds County, said the damage is reminiscent of that caused by the Easter Flood of 1979.
As of April 7, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) reported in 11 Central Mississippi counties that 52 homes were destroyed and nearly 8,000 damaged, the vast majority (50 destroyed and 7,700 damaged) in Hinds County. Twenty-eight mobile homes were destroyed, and another eighteen were damaged.
Businesses also took a heavy blow. Seventy businesses reported some damage, 29 of those falling in the “major damage” category.
This prompted an emergency declaration from Gov. Haley Barbour April 7. The governor’s declaration covers 12 counties (Hinds, Lauderdale, Leake, Madison, Neshoba, Newton, Rankin, Scott, Smith, Tippah, Warren and Yazoo).
“The amount of damage caused by the tornadoes and severe weather is devastating and widespread,” Barbour said. “By issuing this state of emergency, we are providing a relief measure at the state level, which helps ensure affected residents have necessary supplies available to them, and that emergency responders will have the authority to provide these services to storm victims in an expedited manner.”
Wood estimated that her GuideOne office received approximately 30 claims calls the afternoon of April 4, and another 20 April 7. She says claims ranged from broken windshields to debris damage, and these claimants were scattered all across the metro Jackson area.
Insurance agencies were operating at full tilt the week of April 7-13, and the Mississippi Insurance Department (MID) was pitching in to help where it could. As of April 8, the Department’s Consumer Services Division had received approximately 50 calls, a majority of them seeking general information such as coverage.
Immediately after the storm, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney issued a statement urging caution when examining storm damage, and to contact their local agent as soon as possible to file a claim. And, the MID also posted safety tips on its Web site.
Donna Cromeans, public relations director at the MID, says, “The Department is not expecting the same volume of calls we received following Hurricane Katrina, but is here to assist all storm victims and Mississippi policyholders with their insurance questions.”
Insurers were not the only ones busy following the storm. Other businesses, such as tree services and roofers, were getting as much work as they wanted, plus.
Will Reed, owner of A-1 Tree Service, was on the road April 9, and had just a minute to talk on his cell phone about the crush of business he is receiving.
“It is more work than I can handle,” Reed says. “Calls just keep coming in. They are mostly from the I-220 area and Rankin County in the Reservoir area. We are stretched out.”
Roof repair is hot-ticket item, says Sue Sykes of Billy Wayne Parker, Residential and Commercial Roofing. “Oh my goodness, we’re swamped,” she says. “It’s been non-stop since the storm.”
She agrees that the damage, at least judging by the volume of calls, equals or surpasses Katrina. She says from the time the storm hit at lunchtime April 4 through the following day, her company fielded seven pages of calls for service, and another five pages April 6.
It is a shot in the arm, she says.
“We usually have a lull around Spring Break, but it usually picks up after that,” Sykes says. “This year, however, the lull continued, and I was just saying (April 3) that I was afraid the economy and high gas prices were going to really hurt us this year. Then, the storm hit, and we are just up to our eyeballs in work.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.