Wilkinson County declared federal disaster

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 10, 2008

NATCHEZ — Even as the overflowing Mississippi River’s waters have begun to recede back into its channels, the President has declared a state of emergency for several Mississippi counties, including Wilkinson County.

The river now stands at approximately 50.9 feet at the Natchez-Vidalia pass — approximately three feet above its 48-foot flood stage. The river crested at approximately 57 feet April 22.

The disaster declaration by President George Bush was made Thursday in response to an April 24 request by Gov. Haley Barbour.

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The disaster declaration makes residents of Wilkinson County eligible for housing assistance, which could include aid for temporary housing or money to make repairs or replacements to damaged homes.

In Wilkinson County, the communities of St. Mary and Fort Adams have experienced severe flooding, and 147 homes have been affected by the floods by either receiving damage or having restricted access, Wilkinson County Director of Emergency Preparedness Thomas Tolliver said.

Of those, 25 homes and four mobile homes were destroyed.

“It’s a good thing for those persons who have been affected,” Tolliver said. “It will probably free up some possibility for mitigation funds for Wilkinson County to avoid future damages.”

With the goal of helping the homeowner bring the home up to sanitary and safe living conditions, disaster relief will come in the form of grants or low-interest loans.

The county hopes to have a disaster recovery center — where groups like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross will operate and provide information and assistence — open by Wednesday, Tolliver said.

The center will be at the Wilkinson County Complex, located at 1495 U.S. 61 South.

The congressional delegations for the affected areas praised the disaster declaration.

Congressman Bennie G. Thompson said in a statement he was pleased with the declaration.

“This assistance is much-needed and will enable families and farmers impacted by the recent round of storms and flooding along the Mississippi River,” Thompson said.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, in a joint statement with U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, said he was glad the President recognized the needs caused by the flooding.

“Residents of the Delta will now be able to receive the help they need to recover from the destructive floods and prepare for future natural disasters,” Cochran said.

The declaration was both timely and necessary, Wicker said.

“By providing for housing assistance, this disaster declaration will help struggling families get back on their feet and allow them to begin rebuilding their lives,” Wicker said.