WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will visit a Mississippi town Friday that was ravaged by a deadly tornado, even as a new series of severe storms threatens to sweep through the Midwest and South.
Last week’s twister destroyed roughly 300 homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and nearby Silver City, leaving piles of wreckage filled with wood, brick and twisted metal. Hundreds of additional buildings were severely damaged. The death toll in Mississippi was 21, based on deaths confirmed by coroners. One person also died in Alabama.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden will survey the damage, meet with storm-affected homeowners and first responders and receive an operational briefing from federal and state officials. They are expected to be joined by Governor Tate Reeves, Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Representative Bennie Thompson, along with local leaders.
In a statement after the tornado, Biden promised that the federal government would “do everything we can to help.”
“We’ll be there as long as it takes,” he said. “We will work together to provide you with the support you need to recover.”
Presidents regularly visit parts of the U.S. that have been devastated by natural disasters or that have suffered heavy casualties from shootings or otherwise, although Biden has been criticized for not yet going to the site of a toxic chemical spill in a small Ohio town. He also has to decide whether to visit Nashville after three children and three adults are killed at Covenant School.
Last week’s bad weather made life even more difficult in an area that is already struggling economically. Mississippi is one of the poorest states, and most – the 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 related to agriculture.
The two counties affected 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 vast fields of cotton, corn and soybeans. Sharkey’s poverty rate is 35% and Humphreys’ is 33%, compared to about 19% for Mississippi overall and less than 12% for the entire United States.
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 are concerns that inflation and economic problems could diminish the impact of federal aid.
Biden spoke with Reeves, Sen. Roger Wicker, Hyde-Smith and Thompson in separate phone calls.
An unusual weather pattern has set in, and forecasters fear Friday will be one of the worst days, with more to come. The National Weather Service said 16.8 million people live in the highest risk zone, and more than 66 million people should be on alert Friday.
The US will see more of these massive storms as the world warms, according to a new study. Storms are likely to be more common in more populous southern states, including Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
A study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society predicts a 6.6% nationwide increase in tornado- and hail-spawning supercell storms and a 25.8% jump in the area and timing of the strongest storms to hit, under a scenario of moderate levels of future warming by the end century.
But in certain areas in the south, the increase is much higher. That includes the Rolling Fork, where the study authors predict an increase of one supercell per year by 2100.
Goldberg reported from Jackson, Miss.