United States President Joe Biden has toured the wreckage in Mississippi a week after a major storm tore across the US south, killing 26.
Speaking from the hard-hit Mississippi community of Rolling Fork, Biden said on Friday that the federal government would cover for 30 days the full cost of the state’s emergency measures in response to the storm.
Twenty-five people were killed in Mississippi by the extreme weather, which hit on March 24 and resulted in at least one tornado that tore across portions of the state. One person was killed in neighbouring Alabama.
“Three minutes – in three minutes this neighbourhood was basically gone … Everything gone,” Biden said in front of a destroyed structure in Rolling Fork, a town of about 1,900 residents in western Mississippi where 13 people died.
“Three hundred homes and businesses are nothing more than piles of twisted materials,” he said. “Mixed up with personal items that mattered so much. Teddy Bears, family albums, clothes, dishes, basics of life all gone.”
Biden declared a state of emergency in Mississippi last Sunday, ordering federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the affected areas.
The assistance can go to helping residents rebuild their homes and access temporary housing, among other measures, the White House said.
Speaking on Friday during Biden’s visit, Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker said, “What has been lost cannot be recovered.
“But we are confident that the people of Rolling Fork, that we are resilient and we will make this community bigger and better.”
The promises to rebuild came as meteorologists warned millions of people to brace for massive storms brewing over at least 15 states in the Midwest and southern US on Friday.
The weather threatened to bring tornadoes, blizzards and freezing rain to a vast section of the country, including areas affected by last week’s storm.
More than 85 million people were under weather advisories on Friday as the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center forecast an unusually large outbreak of thunderstorms with the potential to cause hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could move for long distances over the ground.
Forecasters issued a tornado warning for parts of central and southwestern Arkansas on Friday afternoon after reports of a funnel cloud. Residents were told to take cover in basements and interior rooms away from windows.
Ping-pong ball-sized hail was reported in Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa.
The area at greatest risk for storms on Friday followed a large stretch of the Mississippi River from Wisconsin all the way to Mississippi, with rare high-risk advisories centred around Memphis; and between Davenport, Iowa, and Quincy, Illinois and surrounding areas.
Forecasters issued tornado watches over both high-risk regions until Friday evening, with the weather service expecting numerous tornadoes and calling it a “particularly dangerous situation”.
“I also want to note that some of these communities are again facing the threat of severe weather,” Biden said in Mississippi on Friday afternoon.
“If you’ve looked at the weather forecast, FEMA and other federal personnel are here on the ground, ready to respond and to support state and local officials if in fact they do amount to major storms,” he said.
With the newly-issued Tornado Watch, now more than 28 million people in a Tornado Watch.
— National Weather Service (@NWS) March 31, 2023
As of Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service had issued a tornado watch for eastern and central Iowa, northwestern Illinois, northeastern Missouri and the southwest corner of Wisconsin.
It urged the five million people living in these areas to be prepared for numerous strong tornadoes on Friday afternoon and evening.
The service also warned that northeastern Arkansas, Missouri’s southern boot-heel, western Kentucky and western Tennessee were at risk for tornadoes, as well.