Gov. Phil Bryant convenes special session Thursday on tornado costs

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Phil Bryant has called the Mississippi Legislature into special session starting Thursday to help pay state government’s share of recovery costs after the deadly April 28 tornadoes.

The governor said Tuesday that lawmakers will be asked to provide up to $20 million for disaster response and recovery costs through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Initial estimates of state costs exceed $13.5 million but damage assessments continue, according to Bryant’s office.

The National Weather Service has counted 23 tornadoes that touched down across the Mississippi, killing 14 in the state, many of them in Winston County.

After the storms, Itawamba, Lee, Lowndes, Madison, Rankin, Wayne and Winston counties were declared eligible for aid under FEMA’s individual disaster assistance program.

On Tuesday, Bryant said the program has been extended to Jones, Leake, Montgomery, Simpson and Warren counties.

“Residents across Mississippi are suffering as a result of last week’s deadly tornadoes, and it is imperative that we provide the necessary resources for response and recovery,” Bryant said in a statement. “I am hopeful the Legislature will appropriately address the funding needs for this most recent disaster and will provide a sustainable method for satisfying responsibilities the state has for ongoing work from other disasters.”

Bryant said Mississippi also must be prepared for the possibility of additional weather emergencies with the hurricane season starting on June 1.

The governor thanked Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gun for working with him on the special session call.

State and local governments are each supposed to put a one-eighth match to federal recovery aid dollars. Officials of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said the state also must fully pay some administrative costs.

Louisville, the county seat in Winston County, was expected to face challenges to provide housing and jobs for residents whose homes, apartments and businesses were destroyed or badly damaged. Officials in the county of 19,000 people said at least 300 buildings were flattened. Louisville’s hospital also was heavily damaged.

State Sen. Giles Ward, a Republican who represents Louisville, said state aid will be essential. Ward’s house was destroyed in the storm.

“It’s just heartening to have leadership that recognizes that there’s nothing we can do to prevent human suffering, but we do have the means to ease some of that, and that’s what we are being called to do.”

State Rep. Michael Evans, D-Preston, said local officials were drawing up a list of expenditures and were trying to figure out what FEMA will or won’t pay for.

“They’ve spent a lot of money the last week of their own and I think they want to see about getting some of that back,” he said.

The Legislature’s regular session closed on April 2.