WINSTON COUNTY — Disaster assessment teams with the Mississippi State University Extension Service are providing “boots on the ground” as agricultural landowners begin the process of recovering from the April 28 storms.
“These trained teams can assess immediate and long-term needs,” said Elmo Collum, a disaster response coordinator with the MSU Extension Service. “They may discover issues that need to be addressed immediately, such as an injured animal, or they may see things that will take weeks of effort, such as fence repair.”
The Mississippi Board of Animal Health trained Extension teams to conduct these official assessments. Extension assessors submit their reports to the board and to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Each team member has training in the Incident Command System, which is used for the command, control and coordination of emergency response efforts.
Collum said 10 teams were requested and deployed to Winston County after the tornado to visit agricultural property and discuss losses with farmers and landowners. As of May 2, no requests had come from Lee County, possibly because most of its damage was not in an agricultural area.
The Winston County teams witnessed significant property losses, including residences, barns, poultry houses, equipment, fences, poultry and animals.
Jane Parish, an Extension beef specialist, was part of one team making visits near Louisville three days after the tornado.
“I can see how it would be overwhelming for any family to begin the recovery process. One farmer said, ‘I don’t even know where to begin,’” she said. “As much as anything, we wanted to make sure they knew that the county Extension office could be a helpful resource during this process.”
Officially, the team filled out disaster forms documenting losses, Parish said. Unofficially, they listened to stories of survival and loss.
“We had no idea the devastation would be so widespread. Every farm had some losses, such as missing or injured animals,” she said. “The people are dealing with so many things — the loss of their residences and family needs — then you put agricultural needs on top of that, and it was just overwhelming.”
Parish said Extension’s goal is to help families recover some sense of normalcy.
“We know from past disasters that it takes a long time to recover from something like this,” she said.