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EF-3 tornado destroys homes, but business community fares better

Magee gets back to business

Magee got the worst of a storm system that rolled across Central Mississippi March 26.

A tornado rated three out of five on the Enhanced Fujita scale and packing estimated winds of 150 m.p.h. struck the northern part of town between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m.

Overall, 27 homes were destroyed and another 24 sustained major damage, according to figures from the Simpson County Emergency Management Agency.

While residential damage was heavy, the Magee and Simpson County business community was a little luckier.

Polk’s Meat Products, the state’s largest meat packer, and the building that once housed foodservice distributor Performance Food Group (PFG) sit on opposite sides of U.S. 49 where the twister crossed. PFG closed its Magee facility last year.

“We’re struggling but we’re fine,” said Polk’s chairman John Polk.

Polk said the funnel cloud ripped off between 30 and 40 feet of sidewall from an out building. A night manager and two employees were in the facility when the storm hit. None was injured.

A total dollar figure for the damage, which included the loss of between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds of meat, had not been determined Wednesday, Polk said.

“It came from right behind us and ripped up some trees next to a pond we have,” Polk said.

The 49 corridor north of the main business hub of Magee contained the only visible damage to businesses. The northern part of a wall at the former PFG building was gone, exposing insulation and leaving that end of the facility open. The building’s row of loading stations for tractor-trailers were noticeably mangled. A guard shack that sat at the shipping entrance was missing part of its roof.

A banner advertising the building as “available” covered the old PFG logo. The company still owns the building, according to Carpenter Properties in Jackson, whose number appears on the sign. No one from PFG had returned a message seeking comment as of the Mississippi Business Journal’s press time.

Downtown Magee, which sits southeast of Polk’s and the old PFG facility, was bustling Wednesday morning under sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s. None of downtown’s buildings showed any damage and there was no debris on the streets.

Magee businesses came out pretty well considering the circumstances, said Michael Ingram, executive director of the Simpson County Development Foundation.

“We’re still here,” he said. “If it would have been 100 yards south it would have done major, major damage. “(Polk’s and its employees) were actually very fortunate. I think the path it took as far as through the industrial park is the best one it could have taken, especially with it hitting at night when no employees were at work.”

Of immediate concern Wednesday was another storm system scheduled to move through the area Thursday.

“We’ve still got so much damage and so much debris to clean up that it could be really tough for us if something worse came through,” Ingram said.

The damage did not FEMA’s minimum requirements for assistance, prompting Gov. Haley Barbour to ask for help from the Small Business Administration (SBA) in the form of low-interest loans.

A SBA representative assessed the damage, and the agency announced April 2 that it would offer aid.

SBA loans, which generally have an interest rate of or lower than four percent, will be available to homeowners and renters to replace damaged personal property or to repair a damaged primary residence.

Nonprofits and businesses can use the loans to repair damaged real estate, machinery, equipment and inventory.

Barbour said he was grateful to the SBA for its quick response to his request for assistance, and he strongly urged residents to take advantage of the much-needed relief.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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