Biden Surveys Damage From Deadly Tornado in Mississippi

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ROLLING FORK, Miss. — President Biden vowed on Friday that the federal government would help Mississippi recover and rebuild from devastation caused by a deadly tornado that ripped through rural parts of the state last week.

The storm left at least 26 people dead and injured dozens in Rolling Fork, a town of about 2,000, and across a wide swath of the Mississippi Delta, leaving the struggling region grasping for help to respond on behalf of those affected.

“This is tough stuff,” Mr. Biden said after arriving in his motorcade, which drove past home after home that had been reduced to piles of lumber and twisted metal.

“The thing that really always amazes me, in all the tornadoes I’ve been to of late, is that you have one house standing and one house, from here to the wall, totally destroyed,” he said. “It’s but for the grace of God.”

Mr. Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, met privately with families affected by the storms at South Delta Elementary School, which had parts of its roof ripped off and trees toppled.

Afterward, the couple walked through streets damaged by the tornado, stopping briefly to speak with residents whose homes were torn to shreds by the high winds.

As he toured the wreckage, Mr. Biden saw a devastated town with many homes half standing and roofs torn away. Power lines remained on the ground. Blue plastic tarpaulins covered the roofs of houses that still had walls to attach to. A couch cushion hung on the branches of a tree.

On one overturned truck, one member of the town strung an American flag.

“I’ve been to too many sites like this over the last two years around the country,” Mr. Biden told a small group of people who had gathered for his short speech. “And I always see the same thing in America. When the neighborhood’s in trouble, the whole neighborhood comes to help.”

The president talked with one family whose roof had been sheared off. Farther down the road, workers had created huge piles of debris, part of the process of clearing out the area.

After the brief walk, Mr. Biden spoke for about 10 minutes, saying his administration would stay with residents for as long as it took to help those affected by the storm.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

“We’re not just here for today,” he said. “I’m determined, and we’re going to leave nothing behind. We’re going to get it done for you. That’s why I’m here.”

During his remarks, Mr. Biden stood in front of a heap of twisted blue metal and wood that had once been an animal shelter and an auto-parts store. Trees behind him were stripped of their branches, making the area look even more desolate.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden received a briefing on the tornado and its damage from federal emergency management officials and local politicians, who described the horror of the storm, which tore through the state for more than an hour.

Throughout the day, Mr. Biden was accompanied by Tate Reeves, the state’s Republican governor, who had repeatedly clashed with the president over Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr. Biden had called out the governor for failing to implement what he called common-sense health restrictions, while Mr. Reeves labeled the president’s coronavirus policies “tyrannical” in a war of words that went back and forth for days.

That ill will was nowhere to be found on Friday, as Mr. Reeves warmly welcomed Mr. Biden — and the help of the federal government — to his beleaguered state.

“I appreciate the fact that the president of the United States is standing here in Sharkey County, Miss., to deliver more remarks today, to hear from the people most affected, and most importantly, as he and Dr. Biden have done throughout the day, show compassion for those who have been most affected,” Mr. Reeves said as he introduced Mr. Biden.

“So without further ado,” he said, “please give a warm Mississippi welcome to the president of the United States.”

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