Federal ‘Major Disaster’ Declared in Mississippi After Dozens Killed by Tornadoes
Federal ‘Major Disaster’ Declared in Mississippi After Dozens Killed by Tornadoes

By Jack Phillips

President Joe Biden on Sunday issued a major disaster declaration in Mississippi after tornadoes left dozens of people dead, according to a White House statement.

Biden early on Sunday “declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Mississippi and ordered Federal aid to supplement State, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms, straight-line winds, and tornadoes from March 24 to March 25, 2023.”

Federal disaster funding will be made available for affected individuals in Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, and Sharkey counties, the White House said. Assistance can be used for temporary housing, home repairs, low-interest loans to cover property losses, and other programs, it said.

Multiple tornadoes ripped through Mississippi and Alabama starting Friday, destroying entire towns and leaving at least 26 dead in Mississippi and one dead in Alabama, according to officials. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared an emergency in affected areas and wrote on Twitter that the state activated its medical support system.

“Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight,” Reeves said in a post. “Watch weather reports and stay cautious through the night, Mississippi!”

Emergency rescuers and first responders climb through a tornado-demolished mobile home park looking for bodies that might be buried in the piles of debris, insulation, and home furnishings in Rolling Fork, Miss., on March 25, 2023. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo)

Biden, meanwhile, issued a statement on Saturday addressing the devastation. The president said that he had communicated with Reeves and other Mississippi officials and would provide federal support, adding that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives have been deployed to tornado-hit areas.

“Jill and I are praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and for those whose loved ones are missing,” he said. “The images from across Mississippi are heartbreaking. While we are still assessing the full extent of the damage, we know that many of our fellow Americans are not only grieving for family and friends, they’ve lost their homes and businesses.”

The National Weather Service’s Jackson office confirmed that a tornado that smashed the Mississippi towns of Rolling Fork and Silver City received a preliminary EF-4 rating, or the second-strongest on its tornado-rating scale.

“The Rolling Fork/Silver City tornado has received a preliminary EF-4 rating. We still have a great amount of information to process, and we will provide additional details on this tornado as they are finalized,” the office wrote. The tornado remained on the ground for approximately one hour and 10 minutes, creating a path of destruction that spanned approximately 59 miles, the office wrote.

More Tornadoes?

Search and recovery crews on Sunday resumed the daunting task of digging through the debris of flattened and battered homes, commercial buildings, and municipal offices after hundreds of people were displaced. The National Weather Service warned on its website that more severe weather is possible on Sunday, including winds, large hail, and possible tornadoes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

“Scattered severe thunderstorms will likely occur today from central Louisiana eastward across the central Gulf Coast states and into the Carolinas. Very large hail and several tornadoes are possible, including a couple of strong tornadoes,” said the agency.

A tornado reportedly touched down early Sunday in Troup County, Georgia, near the Alabama border, according to the Georgia Mutual Aid Group. Affected areas included the county seat of LaGrange, about 67 miles southwest of Atlanta.

“Many buildings damaged, people trapped,” the group said on Facebook. In nearby West Point, roads, including Interstate Highway 85, were blocked by debris.

The Troup County Sheriff’s Office said it was responding to reports of downed trees and power lines and damaged homes. A tiger was reported missing at the Wild Animal Safari in Pine Mountain.

“If you do not have to get on the roads this morning please do not travel,” the agency said on Facebook. Some outages in cell service were reported after a suspected tornado struck the area around dawn Sunday, the Troup County Sheriff’s Office said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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