County still waiting on ‘mega’ storm shelters EOM office hoped to have 24 new units installed for spring storms

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Staff Report
With the spring tornado and severe storm season fast approaching, Emergency Operations Management
director Daniel Cole is keeping a close eye on weather forecasts and waiting on updates from the
Federal Emergency Management Agency on the status of new storm shelters awarded to Panola County
in a mitigation grant more than a year ago.
Cole first informed the Board of Supervisors about the grant and the county’s opportunity to receive 15
new above ground and handicapped accessible shelters, but increased the county’s order to 24 when the
board learned that only a 10 percent match would be required.
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.
Total costs were estimated at $210,000, including installation, with the county’s only cash outlay being
about $21,000. Cole said the 24 new units will greatly increase the safety of residents during severe
weather – an inherent danger to North Mississippi homes and businesses.
“We had hoped to have these installed for what is usually a stormy March through May, but there have
been some holdups on the FEMA end,” Cole said. “They came back with more questions from the
application, but we’ve had MEMA fighting for us on this and we hope to get the good news soon about
when we can expect delivery.”
“It’s not just us,” Cole said. “I’m hearing that several counties who were approved are having trouble
getting theirs as well.”
By the fall, when a second tornado season usually threatens in October and November, the shelters
should all be in place, he said.

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.
All rural fire departments have shelters and there are several others in Courtland, Pope, and the Pleasant
Grove area. When the new shelters are installed, shelter capacity for county residents will more than
double and be fully accessible to citizens with handicaps.
Not only are the new shelters larger and safer, but will also include hand washing stations and makeshift
bathrooms, basically a curtain with a plastic bag liner in a five-gallon bucket with a handrail system.
Cole said the shelters will be delivered on 18-wheel truck trailers and set into place using cranes. The
structures will be anchored to the ground with poles driven at least six feet into the ground.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox