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Biden: Feds 'Not Leaving' MS Town      04/01 08:49


   ROLLING FORK, Miss. (AP) -- President Joe Biden saw for himself the 
flattened homes, broken furniture and upended lives left behind by last week's 
deadly tornado in Mississippi and pledged Friday that the federal government is 
not leaving until the area is back on its feet.

   In the close-knit community of Rolling Fork, Biden read aloud the names of 
each of the 13 residents of the small town killed in the storm after touring 
the wreckage. He acknowledged to residents that the road to recovery will be 
long and hard, but said he was committed to helping them through it.

   "We're not just here for today," said Biden, standing near an animal shelter 
and a hardware store reduced to rubble by the powerful storm as he addressed 
members of the devastated community. "We're going to get it done for you. We're 
going to make sure you can stay right here."

   Biden lost Mississippi by more than 16 percentage points in 2020, but people 
were grateful that he came -- and hopeful they won't be forgotten. Resident 
Paul Rice said he welcomed the continued attention Friday's visit brought to 
the town's plight.

   "Right now, everybody's here, but I imagine it'll start drying up," said 
Rice, who was driving around town on an ATV to survey the damage and check on 
friends whose homes had been destroyed. "We're Americans first and foremost. 
And that means we all have to work together."

   The president heaped praise on Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and the area's 
longtime Democratic congressman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, for moving quickly to 
help Rolling Fork and surrounding communities following last week's storm.

   Under a canopy set up blocks away from Rolling Fork's obliterated city hall 
building, church volunteers doled out packages of breakfast sausages and 
pancakes with syrup Friday morning. Joseph Thomas, a 77-year-old Vietnam 
veteran and lifelong Rolling Fork resident, arrived to claim his meal wearing a 
bandana emblazoned with an American flag.

   Thomas said he never imagined any president would come to his rural Delta 

   "I'm proud that he is coming to this little small town. That means a lot to 
me," Thomas said. "Because we need a lot of help to come through here, federal 
help, boots on the ground to put all this back together."

   Last week's twister destroyed roughly 300 homes and businesses in Rolling 
Fork, and the nearby town of Silver City, leaving mounds of lumber, bricks and 
twisted metal. Hundreds of additional structures were badly damaged. Overall, 
the death toll in Mississippi stands at 21, based on those confirmed by 
coroners. One person died in Alabama, as well.

   From Marine One, as they flew from Jackson to the area hardest hit by last 
week's storm, the president and first lady Jill Biden got a view of the 
devastation across acres of farmland -- destroyed homes, toppled trees and 
piles of debris.

   "This is tough stuff," Biden said as he was greeted by state, local and 
federal officials after arriving in Rolling Fork. "The most important thing is 
we got to let people know the reason for them to have hope, especially those 
who have lost somebody."

   Biden announced that the federal government will cover the total cost of the 
state's emergency measures for the next 30 days, including overtime for first 
responders and debris cleanup. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management 
Agency will open disaster recovery centers in storm-ravaged counties to help 
residents access resources.

   The Bidens also met with residents impacted by the storms and first 
responders, and received an operational briefing from federal and state 

   The devastation from the storm is immense.

   Residents watched as Biden walked through a leveled section of Rolling Fork, 
just blocks from the town's downtown. A father held his toddler sleeping on his 
shoulder. Kids who aren't in school because of the tornado crouched and 
watched. Just before the president arrived, a man picked through the wreckage, 
bent over to comb through the debris.

   "I know there's a lot of pain and it's hard to believe in a moment like 
this: This community is going to be rebuilt, and rebuilt and built back better 
than it was before," Biden assured residents.

   Last week's severe weather makes life even more difficult in an area already 
struggling economically. Mississippi is one of the poorest states, and the 
majority-Black Delta has long been one of the poorest parts of the state -- a 
place where many people live paycheck to paycheck, often in jobs connected to 

   Two of the counties walloped by the tornado, Sharkey and Humphreys, are 
among the most sparsely populated in the state, with only a few thousand 
residents in communities scattered across wide expanses of cotton, corn and 
soybean fields. Sharkey's poverty rate is 35%, and Humphreys' is 33%, compared 
with about 19% for Mississippi overall and less than 12% for the entire United 

   FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said some of the damage to the area's 
infrastructure will take much time to repair and that the administration will 
help in rebuilding key facilities to be "more resilient" to withstand future 
natural disasters.

   "We know that these communities could be cash strapped and we want to get 
that funding flowing," Criswell added.

   Biden approved a disaster declaration for the state, which frees up federal 
funds for temporary housing, home repairs and loans to cover uninsured property 
losses. But there's concern that inflation and economic troubles may blunt the 
impact of federal assistance.

   The president arrived in the Delta community as a new series of severe 
storms threatens to rip across the Midwest and the South.

   According to a new study, the U.S. will see more of these massive storms as 
the world warms. The storms are likely to strike more frequently in more 
populous Southern states including Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

   The study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society predicts a 
nationwide 6.6% increase in tornado- and hail-spawning supercell storms and a 
25.8% jump in the area and time the strongest storms will strike, under a 
scenario of moderate levels of future warming by the end of the century.

   But in certain areas in the South the increase is much higher. That includes 
Rolling Fork, where study authors project an increase of one supercell a year 
by 2100.

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