Mississippi town mobilizes volunteers, opens mobile hospital after tornado kills 26
By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - Officials in Rolling Fork on Monday mobilized volunteers, organized logistics and opened a mobile hospital in the impoverished small town in western Mississippi clobbered by a ferocious tornado three days ago.
Some 26 people were killed in the powerful twister that ripped through the area and town of 1,900 on Friday night, destroying many of the community's 400 homes, snapping tree trunks like twigs and tossing cars aside like toys.
"A disaster of this magnitude in a town this small and everything close together, people here are still in shock," said Brad Bradford, a spokesperson for the emergency management agency in Sharkey County.
Crews were working on Monday morning to restore the town's 911 service and electricity, he said. Some two-fifths of the county's 1,900 homes and businesses were without power on Monday morning, according to Poweroutage.us.
Officials were also organizing volunteer clean-up crews, the flow of donated supplies such as water and directing families Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross resources.
They were also setting up a mobile hospital after the Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital was damaged.
Residents like Labryant Knight spent the weekend assessing the damage and beginning the long task of cleaning up and rebuilding in the community, where one-fifth of the population lives below the federal poverty line.
"You can see that truck there. That's my brother's. He's a truck driver. All of those trucks right there are his trucks. So his whole livelihood is just sitting in a pile of dirt," he said as he walked over piles of debris where his neighborhood once stood.
'LONG ROAD TO RECOVER'
The tornado, which rolled for 70 minutes on the ground as it traveled east 59 miles (95 km) on Friday night was classified as EF-4 twister, according to the preliminary report by the National Weather Service. Winds for an EF-4 tornado can reach between 166 to 200 miles per hour.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the affected areas. The funding will be available to affected people in Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, and Sharkey counties.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on Monday said that counties covered by Biden's emergency declaration can seek help from FEMA to jumpstart the rebuilding and recovery process.
"It's going to be a long road to recover for them," Criswell told MSNBC in an interview after traveling to the region on Sunday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Asked about improving alert systems, Criswell said warning systems always need to be reviewed and noted that more frequent and intense storms are coming more quickly.
"We really need to work on how we're getting the message out early about what the potential threat is," she told the television network.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Angus MacSwan)