Washington, D.C. – With help already on the ground and more on the way, national service participants and volunteers have been working feverishly to help storm-ravaged towns in Mississippi rebuild and recover from the aftermath of last week's devastating tornadoes.
The tornadoes that ripped through the South on Wednesday, April 27 were the deadliest in 37 years, causing more than 300 deaths and billions dollars of damage. They came as communities in other states are reeling from the effects of flooding and severe storms.
“As Mississippi volunteers mobilize by the thousands to assist those affected by last week's devastating tornados, national service has played a vital role in assisting our most impacted communities,” said Brandi McNeil, Deputy Director of Programs and Operations at the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service (MCVS). “AmeriCorps NCCC teams have quickly moved into affected areas and are providing critical support to local officials and faith-based organizations, doing everything from search and recovery to deploying volunteers to work sites. We couldn't do it without them."
MCVS is coordinating with the Mississippi Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to assemble disaster crews and respond to areas in need. Nine Volunteer Reception Centers have served affected communities since the deadly storms. MCVS has documented 3,705 volunteers serving more than 13,950 hours since Friday, and is awaiting additional reports of volunteer response activity from several other counties.
Smithville, Mississippi, was the epicenter of the deadly EF5 tornado that destroyed over half the town. The tornado reduced many businesses, government offices, churches, and residences to rubble. The surviving structures maintain varying levels of damage. MCVS is working with Smithville Baptist Church, the National Guard and state and local officials to coordinate all volunteer activity. More than 1,090 volunteers went to work to help the community of Smithfield rebuild over the weekend.
National service programs and members have been a vital part of the response across Mississippi:
- Two AmeriCorps NCCC teams have been sent to work in Smithville with NECHAMA, a faith-based organization based out of Minneapolis which focuses on disaster relief efforts. The team has been helping with volunteer coordination, donation collection and distribution, and debris removal.
- An additional AmeriCorps NCCC has been deployed to Amory, near Smithville, to assist Catholic Charities with debris cleanup and home repairs.
- Mississippi AmeriCorps members at Piney Woods School worked with a local radio station for over 12 hours, loading an estimated 100,000 pounds of supplies, food, and water donated to MCVS for the Smithville relief efforts.
- MCVS AmeriCorps VISTAs are managing the Lafayette County Volunteer Reception Center.
- Lafayette County Oxford Park RSVP has been has been coordinating volunteers in Lafayette County, and Lauderdale County RSVP volunteers are answering phones at the United Way of Eastern Mississippi and volunteering through the Union Baptist Church south of Meridian.
- Mississippi AmeriCorps members from Jackson and America Reads-Mississippi are assisting the City of Jackson in the response.
- An AmeriCorps NCCC teams is in Vicksburg to help with flood outreach efforts and build levee walls, as waters continue to rise.
"We've been hard at work completing search and rescue missions with volunteer firefighters and repairing roofs to prevent more damage,” said AmeriCorps NCCC Lindsey Tarr, who is helping with relief efforts in Smithville. “People don't know what they're going to do, but they are glad to see us here to help. With the skills and training AmeriCorps NCCC brings, we want to provide relief to the first responders who have to do their jobs and help their neighbors cope in the wake of this disaster.”
Across Mississippi, an estimated 990 homes have been destroyed, with an additional 2,520 homes sustaining damage. MCVS is working with officials, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and national service members in Monroe, Lafayette, Kemper, Jasper, Clarke, Hinds, Greene and Chickasaw counties, to coordinate and track volunteer activity and provide public information about donations needs and drop off locations
The Corporation for National and Community Service is working closely with FEMA, state emergency officials, state service commissions, and nonprofit organizations to assess the dynamic situation and determine the most effective role for additional national service participants in response to these disasters.