Mississippi tornado victims wonder, ‘How can we rebuild?’

ROLLING FORK, Miss. (AP) – Tornado That brought down the roof and two walls of Jermaine Wells’ Mississippi home, as well as a massive tractor tire that landed near him in the living room as his wife cuddled up in the laundry room.

The couple survived Friday night’s storm, but as they looked through the wreckage of their one-story home in Rolling Fork on Monday.He said they’re not sure how they’ll pay for day-to-day expenses, let alone long-term recovery.

Wells, 50, drives a backhoe for another county’s highway department, and he said he doesn’t get paid unless he’s working. His wife, a cashier at a local store, collected loose coins while searching the rubble for clothes.

“I can’t even go to work. I don’t have a car or anything,” Wells said. “How can we rebuild what we have nothing to build a foundation with?”

The disaster makes life even more difficult in this economically distressed area. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the US, and the mostly black Delta was one of the poorest parts of Mississippi—a place where many people work paycheck to paycheck, often in agriculture-related jobs.

Two countries surrounded by tornadoesSharkey and Humphrey are among the most sparsely populated in the state, with communities of just a few thousand scattered across vast expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields. Sharkey poverty rate is 35%, and Humphreys’s is 33%, compared to about 19% in Mississippi and less than 12% for the entire United States.

People in poverty are vulnerable after disasters not only because they lack financial resources, but also because they often don’t have friends or family who can provide long-term shelter, said the Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Children’s Defense Fund. , a national group that advocates for policies to help low-income families.

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“We need to make sure that the people in power — the policymakers — pay attention and pay attention to people who are often invisible because they’re poor, because they’re black, because they’re rural,” Wilson told The Associated Press on Monday.

On Monday, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency revised the state’s tornado death toll to 21, reduced from 25. The new number is based on deaths confirmed by coroners, the agency said. MEMA spokeswoman Ali Jasper said the agency was not aware of any reports of missing persons. One person died in Alabama.

Preliminary estimates show 313 structures were destroyed and more than 1,000 damaged in some way in Mississippi, the Federal Emergency Management Agency told emergency managers Monday.

The tornado destroyed many homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and nearby Silver City, leaving behind mountains of wood, brick and twisted metal. Local housing stock had already been reduced, and some who lost their homes said they would move in with friends or relatives. Mississippi has opened more than a dozen shelters to temporarily house people displaced by the tornado..

The tornado destroyed the modest one-story home Kimberly Berry shared with her two daughters in the Delta Plains, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) outside Rolling Fork. All she was left with was the base and random items – a collapsed refrigerator, a dresser and matching nightstand, a bag of Christmas decorations, a few clothes.

During the storm, Berry and his 12-year-old daughter prayed in a nearby church, which was barely damaged, while his 25-year-old daughter survived in Rolling Fork. The monk nodded as he looked at the remains of their material possessions. She said she is grateful that she and her children are still alive.

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“I can take it all back. It’s nothing,” said Berry, 46, who works as a supervisor in catfish farming and processing operations. “I’m not going to get depressed about it.”

Spent the weekend with friends and family sorting through storage. Her sister, Diana Berry, said her home a few miles away was unscathed. He works at the deer camp and said his boss offered to let Kimberly Berry and her daughters live there for as long as they needed.

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi on Sunday, making federal funding available to the hardest-hit areas. But Craig Fugate, who led FEMA when Barack Obama was president, said it’s important to remember that the agency won’t pay all the costs after a disaster.

“In communities where people don’t have insurance and their homes are destroyed, their ability to rebuild will be tested,” Fugate said.

FEMA provides temporary housing and helps with some uninsured losses, but he said the agency is not designed to replace everything if homes are uninsured or uninsured. Long-term recovery will depend heavily on money for housing and urban development.

“That money won’t come in quickly,” he said.

In recent years, FEMA has moved to lower barriers so that “all people, including those in disadvantaged and underserved communities, can better access our assistance,” said FEMA spokesman Jeremy Edwards. He cited agency changes that expand the types of documents survivors can provide to prove they lived in or owned a particular home.

Marcus T. Coleman Jr., who directs the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security, said after his visit to Rolling Fork, he is concerned about both the mental health and financial challenges for people struggling in the aftermath of the tornado. “Disasters often exacerbate pre-existing inequalities,” Coleman said.

Denise Durrell leads the United Way of Southwest Louisiana, where residents are still recovering from Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020. The organization helped people rebuild their damaged homes, some of which were uninsured or too small.

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“Just drive around town,” he said. “The blue tarps are still there. The houses are in a worse condition.”

Louisiana has finally received a big infusion of federal money to help those still battling two 2020 hurricanes. Durrell said if people don’t register with FEMA after the storm, they won’t be able to qualify for this new money. He said the application process is complicated and requires Internet access, but many families were focused on destroying their homes and may not have known about registration or understood its importance.

“People in Mississippi need to hear loud and clear: You have to find a way to get these people registered with FEMA,” Durrell said.


This story was updated by Marcus T. To correct the title of Coleman Jr., who works for the Department of Homeland Security.


Rebecca Santana reported from Washington, D.C. and Associated Press/Report For America reporter Michael Goldberg contributed from Rolling Fork.

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