In the aftermath of the fatal EF-3 tornado hitting Columbus Saturday evening, needs abound and opportunities are available for the community to help.
At Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s last count, 19 injuries were reported and approximately 900 residents remained without power. The agency counted 141 homes and 28 businesses damaged, although Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency Director Cindy Lawrence gave a higher figure of between250 and 275 structures damaged or destroyed. Ashley Pounds, a 41-year-old Tupelo woman is the only confirmed fatality.
Lawrence said many people had come to volunteer. She said anyone interestedin volunteering in the aftermath should call the United Way of Lowndes County Volunteer Center at 662-570-9045
“I’m sure it makes the citizens in the affected areas feel really good that their neighbors are there to help and people are coming out to help them during this time of disaster,” Lawrence said.
Columbus Director of Community Outreach Glenda Buckhalter said nonperishable ood items were among the most needed donations, especially items that can be prepared without electricity and child-friendly items. Items can be dropped off at the drop-off area at 1605 Main St. in Columbus until 6 p.m. daily. She also said cash donations would go far. Cash donations can be mailed to Building Bridges of Hope at P.O. Box 492 Columbus, MS 39703. For more information, Buckhalter can be reached at 662-244-3525.
Buckhalter also said she had attended a meeting to coordinate the relief effort earlier in the day.
“We’re trying to coordinate the volunteer effort, so everyone can kind of meet in one place and just kind of speak the same language throughout the community,” Buckhalter said. “Right now everyone wants to help, and it’s just a lot of chaos and confusion.”
Maroon Volunteer Center Director Meggan Franks said a number of Mississippi State University Students had reached out wanting to help. The Maroon Volunteer Center has put a list of options for students wanting to help on its website. Franks urged those wanting to help to check in with the United Way before self deploying.
The United Way of Lowndes County Volunteer Center is located at 223 22nd St. N. in Columbus. More information on volunteering can be found by calling 662-370-8600, 662-370-8602 or 662-370-8603.
“They have a lot of people working, first responders or agency contacts including volunteers, and they need people to cook meals and provide meals,” Franks said. “They do need volunteers to help with cleanup efforts, but they’re also kind of in a situation where they need to feed them hot food.”
Franks said cash was the best thing to donate, but information on needed items was available on the United Way of Lowndes County Facebook page. Franks also said 398 MSU students were from Columbus and Lowndes County, and some were affected by the tornado.
Donations to the affected students can be made to the MSU Foundation Student Relief Fund. Students at MSU needing assistance should contact the MSU Dean of Students Office at 662-325-3611.
She said she was unsure how many from MSU had volunteered to help in Columbus, but said she expected the number to increase as the week went on.
“A lot of times people come to us first,” Franks said. “What we do is communicate with first responders and agencies first. As of (Sunday) when I called, they still had some areas that were needing to be assessed. You can’t have volunteers going into those areas. There could be power lines down.”
“We’re kind of in the process of trying to get the right communication, so that we make sure our students are following the procedures,” Franks said.
Lawrence said some areas of Lowndes County were still flooded, and that the shelter at the Townsend Community Center was still open. The center is located at 1001-1009 15th St. S. in Columbus.
“Just keep praying for the city,” Buckhalter said.