By Josh Troy
Coahoma County was under a tornado watch last Friday night, and three days later, District 3 representative from the Board of Supervisors Derrell Washington called for action. Washington said at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that there should be a full search and rescue plan involving all Coahoma County communities in the event of an emergency. The board unanimously voted to review a tentative plan from Coahoma County Emergency Management Agency Director Charles Hale during the May 1 meeting. Hale reported there was no damage from the storm in Coahoma County. However, he said 207 power outages were reported, and 57 individuals utilized the Safe Room at Coahoma Community College during the storm.
Hale said a Category 5 tornado, which was the most intense, started in Texas and went into Arkansas. He added that storms came across the Mississippi River into Coahoma County. Washington asked what the search and rescue team would do if a tornado did come through Coahoma County. He specifically asked what the plan was for communities such as Jonestown, which is part of District 3, Friars Point, and other towns not in Clarksdale.
“What have we got in place to make sure that immediate help is there for those people?” he said. Hale said he did not know what department oversaw the plan, noting it has come under the Sheriff’s and volunteer fire departments in the past. He said the EMA office could come up with a plan. “We have a group that comes out, they volunteer and help,” said Hale, referring to when a weather emergency occurs.
Washington then called for some leadership to assemble people together for a search and rescue plan. “We don’t want something to happen and then everybody’s scrambling and everybody’s arguing about who they are taking orders and stuff from,” he said. Washington talked about how there have been several recent storms. “They’re coming more violent and they’re coming more frequently,” he said. “The time for power trips, we’ve got to put that away. Turf wars, it’s got to be behind us.”
Washington said it is important to come up with a plan for Coahoma County. “When a storm hits, nobody cares who really the emergency management is,” he said. “They don’t care who Supervisor Washington is, and they don’t care who comes and helps. They want help. We’ve got to be able to have these people be able to get help without somebody being there trying to be there as a publicity stunt. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Hale agreed, saying he would love to move forward.
“I think a good start would be to invite all the personnel to the table and have a meeting,” Hale said. “Let’s invite everyone to the table and have everyone come to the meeting with white T-Shirts on,” Washington replied. “Everyone come around the table with no title and see what we can work with.” Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson, who represents District 4, said different departments within the county have search and rescue plans and could come together.
“This is not rocket science,” he said. “I’m sure other areas, other counties and other states have already implemented a search and rescue team.” Newson said Coahoma County could use search and rescue plans in other communities as a guide. “I agree with Supervisor Washington,” he said. “This is nothing new that we’ve been kicking around. It’s just that we don’t have any teeth in it yet.”
Hale and Newson both mentioned that going forward, there should be a sign directing people to the Safe House at CCC. “We have to get some type of signage out there,” Hale said. “Everyone’s not familiar with how to get in and out of the Safe room.” Hale mentioned putting signs on the road by CCC.
Newson suggested having signs on Highways 61 and 49. “Let’s get the ball rolling on getting a real search and rescue team together,” Washington said. “Let them go operate.” Hale said he would have a plan in place by the May 1 meeting or sooner. Washington said people from every community in Coahoma County should be included in the plan. “Nobody knows their community better than the people that stay there,” he said. “Make sure that everybody’s involved.”
While a search and rescue plan has yet to be implemented, Hale did say a shelter plan has been submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for review. A search and rescue plan establishes entities’ responsibilities in the event of a disaster. A shelter plan is finding a safe location indoors and staying there until citizens are told to evacuate. Hale said FEMA would inform him if anything needed to be added to the shelter plan.
The CCC Safe Room was used as a shelter on Friday. Hale said the Coahoma County Expo Center could also be used. “What about the (Clarksdale) Civic Auditorium?” Newson said, “It’s previously been used as a shelter, hasn’t it?” “It has, but I did not see it in the plan, but I can add it,” Hale replied.
Newson suggested communicating with the city to see about using the Civic Auditorium as an emergency shelter. Hale said the American Red Cross and the Mississippi Department of Health are involved in assisting in the shelter plan. He added that each town is responsible for its own plan, but other communities can still use shelters located in Coahoma County if a disaster occurs. “Everyone is welcome,” Hale said. “You just plan for your own county.”
In other business involving disasters:
•Hale said he applied for two FEMA grants and radios that would help if disasters occurred.
•Hale also said Fire Chief Stanley Lynom went to Rolling Fork on a volunteer basis after the recent tornado.
“I’m glad that Coahoma County went down and we represented,” Hale said.
Hale said Coahoma County may be used as a deployment area for resources that would assist Rolling Fork.
•Hale reported that the Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioners unanimously voted to support his satellite radar program using one of the water towers. The program could save lives during inclement weather.