Mississippi tornado: ‘Heartbreaking and inspiring’ scene as residents try to recover

ROLLING FORK, Miss. — Federal, state and local officials gave an update on Sunday, less than 48 hours after a devastating tornado leveled towns in western Mississippi and killed at least 25 people.

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was joined during a Sunday news conference by Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith; U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson; Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell; and Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker.

Mayorkas said the aftermath of the tornado showed that the residents of the four counties in western Mississippi impacted by the storm had experienced “heartbreak and inspiration.”

“We walked down the street of this town, seeing devastation on both sides of the road. One can see photographs of this devastation, but it’s nothing compared to seeing it in person,” Mayorkas told reporters. “It’s inspiring to see the people of Mississippi come together -- but not just the people of Mississippi -- but the country, to come together in such inspiring (ways).”

The death toll in Mississippi remained at 25, officials said but that number could rise as crews work through the debris. The fatalities were reported in Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll, and Monroe counties, according to WLBT.

Dozens of people have been injured, officials said.

In a news release on Sunday, FEMA announced that federal disaster has been made available to the state of Mississippi in addition to state and local recovery efforts.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials have preliminarily categorized Friday’s tornado, which roared through the towns of Rolling Fork and Silver City, as an EF-4 storm, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

An EF-4 tornado has top wind gusts from 166 mph to 200 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

“The help is on the way I think that’s critically important,” Reeves said during the news conference. “What we’ve seen over the last 36 hours in Mississippi is, on one hand, heartbreaking, on the other hand, inspiring and quite frankly makes me damn proud to be a Mississippian.”

“We know this is going to be a long-term recovery effort,” Criswell said.

Hyde-Smith called the scene in Rolling Fork “indescribable.”

“This was 20 seconds of extreme weather,” Mayorka told MSNBC in an interview after the news conference. “But we are here for the long haul.”

Eldridge, who doubles as a funeral director in Rolling Fork, said it was difficult for him to face friends and residents who are grieving the loss of family members.

He added that the town’s citizens are resilient and will rebound.

“Now, I’m helping (their families) make it through in this traumatic time,” Walker said. “We were all taught that a family that prays together, stays together. This is a family. A family of unity. A family of strength, and this is what we need to bring this community back together.

“I’m a firm believer that when you do right, right will follow.”

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