Barbour declares disaster, asks for aid

JACKSON — Gov. Haley Barbour has requested President Obama declare two Mississippi counties as a major disaster area, allowing residents and business owners access to federal government assistance programs.

In his initial request, Barbour has asked for the declaration to apply to Choctaw and Yazoo counties. In Choctaw County, initial damage assessments show 33 homes destroyed, 30 homes with major damage and 51 homes affected. In Yazoo County, initial damage assessments show 104 homes destroyed, 97 homes with major damage and 114 homes affected.

If approved, residents of those counties would be able to obtain specialized benefits, including individual assistance and unemployment services to aid in the recovery from the devastating spring storms that swept through Mississippi over the past weekend. Local and state governments would be able to use federal funds to help pay for the cost of cleanup and emergency measures.

Assessments continue in all of the storm-damaged counties. Federal, state and local officials are determining whether the damage in other Mississippi counties qualifies those areas for a federal disaster declaration. Those counties include: Attala, Desoto, Forrest, Holmes, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Marion, Marshall, Monroe, Oktibbeha, Simpson, Tallahatchie, Union, Warren and Webster.

Barbour will make the request for an expanded declaration if those counties meet the necessary threshold.

Mississippi’s top insurance official said the devastation caused by Saturday’s storm would be “significant” after viewing the destruction on the ground and by helicopter.

“It’s pretty bad,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said after touring damage in Yazoo County Monday.

He said his office didn’t have a damage estimate nor a statewide claims count.

It’s not clear when a definitive damage estimate will be released. The weekend storm is blamed for 10 deaths in Mississippi.

He likened the most heavily damaged areas to an eraser board that’s been wiped clean. He said companies had adjusters out in some of the areas touched by the storm.

Some companies and the Insurance Department have centers at a Sunflower store in Yazoo City to answer questions and process claims.

More than 360 home and automobile claims related to the storm had been filed with State Farm as of Monday afternoon, company spokesman David Majors said.

“It’s been steady,” he said of people coming to the claims center at Sunflower Food Store. “People are coming in, getting their business in order.”

Allstate officials would not immediately say how many insurance claims they had received by Monday.

Company spokeswoman Allison Hatcher said Allstate typically releases its nationwide claims numbers quarterly as part of requirements it has as a publicly traded firm.

“We’ll stay there as long as we need to,” Hatcher said of Allstate’s claims center in Sunflower.

Nationwide spokeswoman Nancy Smeltzer said 35 claims had been placed by Monday afternoon. She said the company does not plan to put a temporary claims center in the state.

Mississippi Farm Bureau’s Yazoo City office continues to serve customers. Jim Rowles, the company’s claims director, said more than 390 reports of property losses had been called in as of Monday afternoon.

A team of 14 deputy fire marshals was sent to damaged areas over the weekend to watch for looters. Other than what Chaney described as minor looting by “out-of-towners” in Holmes County, there hadn’t been any major issues.

Meanwhile, a number of businesses were doing their best Monday to keep their shelves fully stocked with post-storm essentials.

Lowe’s in Madison had a number of customers from Yazoo and Holmes counties pass through to get generators, lumber and other items.

“We’ve had some people call from even farther away, looking to (place) Internet orders,” store manager Shane Graham said.

Three trucks’ worth of storm supplies arrived at the store Monday, and two more are expected today, he said.

Delta Ace Hardware in Yazoo City remained open into the wee hours Sunday morning and continues to assist customers, store manager Sean King said.

First responders and residents have gotten everything from tarp and generators to chain saws, batteries and duct tape from the store, he said, significantly depleting the stock.

King said trucks from Mobile are coming with fresh supplies.

Plywood, roofing shingles, windows and pipes are in huge demand at Lexington Lumber and Home Center in Holmes County. The store is expecting a shipment by Wednesday.

“Most of the stuff we have is sold out,” store clerk Dwayne Riley said.

Mississippi’s top insurance official said the devastation caused by Saturday’s storm would be “significant” after viewing the destruction on the ground and by helicopter.

“It’s pretty bad,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said after touring damage in Yazoo County Monday.

He said his office didn’t have a damage estimate nor a statewide claims count.

It’s not clear when a definitive damage estimate will be released. The weekend storm is blamed for 10 deaths in Mississippi.

He likened the most heavily damaged areas to an eraser board that’s been wiped clean. He said companies had adjusters out in some of the areas touched by the storm.

Some companies and the Insurance Department have centers at a Sunflower store in Yazoo City to answer questions and process claims.

More than 360 home and automobile claims related to the storm had been filed with State Farm as of Monday afternoon, company spokesman David Majors said.

“It’s been steady,” he said of people coming to the claims center at Sunflower Food Store. “People are coming in, getting their business in order.”

Allstate officials would not immediately say how many insurance claims they had received by Monday.

Company spokeswoman Allison Hatcher said Allstate typically releases its nationwide claims numbers quarterly as part of requirements it has as a publicly traded firm.

“We’ll stay there as long as we need to,” Hatcher said of Allstate’s claims center in Sunflower.

Nationwide spokeswoman Nancy Smeltzer said 35 claims had been placed by Monday afternoon. She said the company does not plan to put a temporary claims center in the state.

Mississippi Farm Bureau’s Yazoo City office continues to serve customers. Jim Rowles, the company’s claims director, said more than 390 reports of property losses had been called in as of Monday afternoon.

A team of 14 deputy fire marshals was sent to damaged areas over the weekend to watch for looters. Other than what Chaney described as minor looting by “out-of-towners” in Holmes County, there hadn’t been any major issues.

Meanwhile, a number of businesses were doing their best Monday to keep their shelves fully stocked with post-storm essentials.

Lowe’s in Madison had a number of customers from Yazoo and Holmes counties pass through to get generators, lumber and other items.

“We’ve had some people call from even farther away, looking to (place) Internet orders,” store manager Shane Graham said.

Three trucks’ worth of storm supplies arrived at the store Monday, and two more are expected today, he said.

Delta Ace Hardware in Yazoo City remained open into the wee hours Sunday morning and continues to assist customers, store manager Sean King said.

First responders and residents have gotten everything from tarp and generators to chain saws, batteries and duct tape from the store, he said, significantly depleting the stock.

King said trucks from Mobile are coming with fresh supplies.

Plywood, roofing shingles, windows and pipes are in huge demand at Lexington Lumber and Home Center in Holmes County. The store is expecting a shipment by Wednesday.

“Most of the stuff we have is sold out,” store clerk Dwayne Riley said.

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