President Joe Biden reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to the people of Mississippi as he visited the state on Friday, formally announcing that the administration will cover the full cost of the state’s emergency response to the deadly tornado-spawning storms that hit the southeast US last week.
The announcement, which case as he toured Rolling Fork, Mississippi, means the federal government will assume the full cost over the next 30 days for measures like operating shelters, paying overtime to first responders and removing debris.
“I just want you to know as you fight through this. You’re not alone. The American people will be with you. They’ll help you through it. And so will I,” Biden said after meeting with families and first responders.
The president also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is opening disaster recovery centers in four Mississippi counties – Humphreys, Monroe, Sharkey and Carroll – on Monday to help impacted communities, according to a White House official. Centers like this are essentially mobile offices set up following a disaster that people can visit to learn about assistance programs, apply for assistance or check on their application, as well as get help with finding information on housing or rental assistance, according to FEMA.
“We’ll be there to the very end, right. We will be there for the years ahead as they go through the recovery process,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.
There are currently over 300 federal personnel on the ground working to help the ongoing response to the disaster, coordinating with local officials, conducting damage assistance and going door to door to check in on residents.
Last weekend’s storms killed at least 26 people, knocked out power for tens of thousands of homes and businesses, trapped people in their homes and cut ruinous paths across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Mississippi last weekend.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been to too many sites like this over the last two years, around the country, probably with the FEMA director, better part of 12 to 15,” Biden said, adding: “I always see the same thing in America – When the neighborhood is in trouble, the whole neighborhood comes to help.”
Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and first lady, US Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and the Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker, as well as other local and federal officials accompanied the president.
The Bidens’ visit comes as the region braces for even more potentially severe storms with more than 75 million people across 18 states at risk of severe weather Friday in the Mississippi Valley and Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.
“We’re always watching the weather and I’m very concerned about the amount of storms that are coming in and the storms that we might see today,” Criswell said.
“After this storm, I talked with the National Weather Service and they were comparing what the weather systems are looking like now to that which – what we saw in 2011,” she added, pointing to terrible tornadoes that year in Missouri and Alabama which killed more than a hundred people and wrecked communities. “The most important thing that we can do is help make sure people understand what their risk is.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.