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City seeks cleanup plan from owners of tornado-damaged homes

June 30, 2019

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Owners of more than 25 tornado-damaged homes in a Mississippi city must present repair plans or face city action.

Columbus Code Enforcement Officer Tomarris Jones told The Commercial Dispatch that the letters were mailed earlier this month to residents whose homes were more than 50% damaged by a Feb. 23 tornado. Jones said 12 residents have responded.

Owners must say by Monday if they plan to repair, demolish or have the city demolish the houses for a fee.

“It’s been over three months and we still have some storm-damaged houses,” Jones said. “We realize it’s not an overnight process, and we just want to know what the owner’s plan of action is. We just can’t let these houses sit there in the unsafe condition that it’s in right now.”

If they don’t respond, the city will start the abatement process. With that, the city will give homeowners “a reasonable amount of time” to restore the property to code requirements before the city completes the work itself and charges the owner by attaching a lien to the property.

Residents were not approved for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency because damage was not widespread enough. That means people who were uninsured, including Major Andrews III, are having trouble raising money to rebuild.

“I don’t know why the city sent out letters when we don’t have a dime,” Andrews said Tuesday, as he fixed a string trimmer next to the ruins of heavily damaged house.

Since the tornado, Andrews has been staying with his son — local architect Major Andrews IV — and will move into an apartment in the coming weeks. Andrews said he has been coming back to his property, cleaning the yard and is now brainstorming plans to build a new house next to the one the storm destroyed.

“I don’t know where I’m going to get the money from,” Andrews said. “It just made me mad (getting the letter).”

So far, Jones said 12 homeowners have responded to the city’s letters.

Jones said that the city will charge various fees based on the amount of debris from demolition, loads to the landfill and manpower it takes to clean up the lot.

“We know that they’re not going to be able to rebuild, but they (are) just letting them sit there,” City Councilman Stephen Jones said. “We’re trying to make them go ahead and tear them down, or whatever they’re going to do to try and get the city looking back a little bit better.”

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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