By Steve Holland
ROLLING FORK, Mississippi (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday consoled families of victims and toured scenes of devastation in a Mississippi town after storms last week killed 26 people and destroyed homes and property in Mississippi and Alabama.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden drove through Rolling Fork, Friday afternoon, viewing the damage left by a powerful tornado that reduced many of the community’s 400 houses to unrecognizable debris.
“The thing that really always amazes me about all the tornadoes is that you have one house standing, one house from here to the wall, totally destroyed. But for the grace of God,” Biden said.
After visiting privately with families of those who died, the Bidens walked down a street through scenes of devastation in the small community, with houses obliterated into pieces of wood, trees stripped of branches.
Biden pledged the federal government’s assistance as the community rebuilds in Mississippi, and
“We’re not just here for today. I’m determined that we’re going to leave nothing behind,” he said. “We’re going to get it done for you.”
Rolling Fork, a town of around 1,900 in western Mississippi, was hit the hardest, with tree trunks snapped like twigs and cars tossed aside like toys. The town’s water tower lay twisted on the ground.
“We anticipated some bad weather but all of a sudden it turned into something chaotic,” Mississippi emergency official Clayton French told the Bidens.
The Bidens were briefed outside a relatively undamaged elementary school not far from a major destruction zone that left the community unrecognizable.
Mississippi officials set up three emergency shelters, including at the National Guard Armory in Rolling Fork. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Deanne Criswell has visited the area and accompanied Biden on Friday.
Biden announced the federal government will cover for 30 days the full cost of Mississippi’s emergency measures in response to last week’s storm.
Those measures may include removing debris, operating shelters and paying overtime to first responders, a White House official said.
FEMA will open disaster recovery centers in four of the state’s counties on Monday, the official added.
Twenty-five people were killed in Mississippi and one in Alabama as a result of the powerful storm.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Josie Kao and Aurora Ellis)