County hoping for 24 new ‘mega’ storm shelters

Published 4:31 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Panola County’s Emergency Operations Management office has applied for a hazard mitigation grant offered through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency that, if approved, will provide 15 handicapped accessible storm shelters throughout the county.

EOM Director Daniel Cole updated supervisors last week on the grant application he planned to submit, telling them he intended to ask for 10-15  shelters to compliment the approximate 15 currently in the county.

The 40,000 pound “mega shelters” are above ground models designed by FEMA to withstand high winds and tornadoes of E-4 to E-5 strength. The grant would reimburse municipalities and counties 90 percent of the total cost, including shipping and installation.

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The supervisors, on learning of the minimal investment for the life-saving shelters, instructed Cole to apply for funding to purchase 24 shelters instead of the requested 10 or 15. He said this week the total cost is $210,558, and the county’s final outlay will be about $21,000 after reimbursement.

“This is a great opportunity for the county to provide storm shelters that everyone can use all over the county,” Cole said. “Right now there are no shelters in Como or Sardis so we will be looking to putting one or two at each of those locations and in Batesville there are two hillside shelters behind Fire Station 2 (behind Sonic) and I’m assuming the City of Batesville will want to install at least one new one on city-owned property, probably in the Van Voris area where the new fire station is located.”

Panola County is served by about 15 rural volunteer departments and most of those sites have the in-ground type shelters that are hard to maintain and difficult to keep dry during heavy rains. Supervisors voted last year to make improvements to existing shelters, including news doors at some locations hoping to make the shelters more usable for residents during severe weather threats.

The above ground models will be much easier to maintain, and more importantly, Cole said, provide safety options for more of the county’s residents. “These shelters are rated for 16 people if you use all the Covid recommendations, but when people are scared for their lives it will probably be closer to 40 that can fit inside,” he said.

One rural department, Pleasant Grove, is limited on space and already has a good storm shelter. Those volunteers may choose to forego a new shelter, Cole said. The 24 units, if approved, would be divided around the county based on population and area served.

Cole said he anticipates hearing a decision from MEMA before month’s end, and hopes to have a positive report for supervisors at their Jan. 3 meeting.