Biden declared a state of emergency for Mississippi after tornadoes killed dozens

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi early Sunday morning, making federal funding available to the hardest-hit areas of Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe and Sharkey counties Friday night. Deadly tornado rips through the Mississippi DeltaOne of the poorest areas in America

CBS News has confirmed that at least 26 people were killed when the massive storm tore through several towns along an hour-long path in Mississippi and Alabama. Dozens more were injured.

After hundreds of people were displaced, search and rescue teams resumed the arduous task of digging through the rubble of flattened and collapsed houses, commercial buildings and municipal offices on Sunday.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorgas and FEMA Administrator Dean Criswell traveled to Mississippi on Sunday to assess the damage.

“In disasters like this, there are no strangers: everyone comes together, everyone is a neighbor, everyone is family,” Mayorkas said Sunday. “They can’t do it alone, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will take as long as it takes. The entire federal family is here to support these communities.”

A man sits amid damage from a series of powerful storms and at least one tornado in Rolling Fork, Mississippi on March 25, 2023.

Will Newton/Getty Images

“FEMA is here. We are committed to the people of Mississippi,” Criswell said at a news conference.

“We’ll be here for you now, we’ll be here for you next week, and we’ll be here after these cameras go down to make sure we’re helping you with all of your recovery needs,” Criswell added.

FEMA Coordinating Officer John Boyle has been appointed to oversee federal recovery efforts. Following Biden’s announcement, federal funds could be used for recovery efforts, including temporary housing, home repairs, loans covering uninsured property losses and other individual and business programs, the White House said in a statement.

The twister leveled entire blocks, destroyed homes, tore a steeple from a church and toppled a municipal water tower. Even as the recovery began, the National Weather Service warned Sunday of severe weather risks — including high winds, large hail and possible tornadoes — for eastern Louisiana, south-central Mississippi and south-central Alabama.

Based on preliminary data, the tornado received an initial EF-4 rating The National Weather Service office in Jackson tweeted late Saturday. An EF-4 tornado has maximum sustained winds between 166 mph and 200 mph (265 kph and 320 kph). Jackson’s office cautioned that it is still gathering information about the tornado.

The tornado devastated the town of Rolling Fork, a town of 2,000 people, killing 13 people, turning homes into piles of rubble, flipping cars on their sides and bringing down the town’s water tower. Other parts of the Deep South were dug out from damage caused by other suspected twisters. A person has died in Morgan County, Alabama, the sheriff’s department said in a tweet.

Pope Francis offered a special prayer for the people of Mississippi “affected by the devastating hurricane” during his weekly noon blessing on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

“I don’t know how anyone survived,” said Rodney Porter, who lives about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Rolling Fork. When the storm hit Friday night, he rushed there to help what he could. Porter arrived to find “total destruction” and said he could smell natural gas. , said he heard people screaming for help in the dark.

“Houses are gone, houses are piled on top of houses, and there are vehicles on top of that,” he said.

Instead of leading the Sunday service, Pastor Greg Proctor was exploring the remains of his Chapel of the Cross church. The tornado tore off the roof of the church and broke the bell tower. One of the few things left is a new stained glass window honoring a longtime church member.

Annette Body traveled from nearby Pelosi to the hard-hit Silver City to survey the damage. She said she feels “blessed” that her own home was not destroyed, but that others she knows have lost everything.

“I cried last night, I cried this morning,” she said, looking around at the flat houses. “They said you have to take cover, but it happened so fast that many people didn’t even have a chance to take cover.”

Storm survivors Saturday walked around, many dazed and shocked, breaking through thick piles of debris and fallen trees with chainsaws, searching for survivors. Power lines were strung under decades-old oaks, their roots ripped from the ground.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency and pledged to help rebuild as he saw the damage to cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish ponds. He spoke with Biden, who also held a call with state congressional representatives.

More than half a dozen shelters were opened in Mississippi to house displaced people.

Preliminary information based on storm reports and assessments of radar data indicated the tornado had been on the ground for more than an hour and had moved at least 170 miles (274 kilometers), said Lance Perilloux, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Jackson, Mississippi office. .

“That’s rare — very, very rare,” he said, attributing the long trajectory to broader atmospheric instability.

Perrilloux said initial findings show the tornado began its path of destruction southwest of Rolling Fork before moving northeast toward the rural communities of Midnight and Silver City and toward Tuchula, Black Hawk and Winona.

The supercell that produced the deadly twister produced damaging tornadoes in northwest and north-central Alabama, said Brian Squitieri, a severe storm forecaster with the Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

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