ROLLING FORK, Miss. – President Biden vowed Friday that the federal government would help Mississippi recover and rebuild from the devastation caused by a deadly tornado that swept through rural parts of the state last week.
The storm killed at least 26 people and injured dozens in Rolling Fork, a town of about 2,000, and across much of the Mississippi Delta, leading the struggling region to reach out for help to respond on behalf of those affected.
“This is heavy stuff,” Mr Biden said after arriving in his motorcade, which drove past house after house reduced to piles of wood and twisted metal.
“What really always amazes me, in all the tornadoes I’ve been in lately, is that you have one house standing and one house, from here to the wall, completely destroyed,” he said. “It’s just 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 had parts of its roof torn off and trees toppled.
Afterwards, the pair walked down streets damaged by the tornado, stopping briefly to talk to residents whose homes had been torn to shreds by the high winds.
While walking through the wreckage, Mr. Biden saw a devastated city with many houses half standing and roofs ripped off. Electricity cables remained on the ground. Blue plastic tarpaulins covered the roofs of houses that still had walls to attach to. A couch cushion hung from the branches of a tree.
A member of the town stretched an American flag on an overturned truck.
“I have been to too many sites like this across the country in the past two years,” Mr. Biden told a small group of people gathered for his short speech. “And I always see the same thing in America. If the neighborhood is in trouble, the whole neighborhood comes to the rescue.”
The president spoke to a family whose roof had been torn off. Further down the road, workers had made huge piles of rubble as part of the process of clearing the area.
After the short walk, Mr. Biden spoke for about 10 minutes and said his administration would remain with residents for as long as necessary to help those affected by the storm.
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“We’re not just here today,” he said. “I am determined and we will leave nothing behind. We’re going to do it for you. That’s why I’m here.”
During his remarks, Mr. Biden stood in front of a pile 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 about the tornado and its damage from federal emergency officials and local politicians, who described the horror of the storm, which swept through the state for more than an hour.
Biden was joined throughout the day by Tate Reeves, the state’s Republican governor, who had repeatedly clashed with the president over Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Biden had subpoenaed 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 seen Friday, when 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 speak more today, to hear from those most affected, and most importantly, as he and Dr. Biden throughout the day, show compassion to those most affected,” Mr. Reeves said as he introduced Mr. Biden.
“So without further ado,” he said, “give the President of the United States a warm welcome to Mississippi.”