‘Like a war zone’: volunteers travel miles to tornado-hit Mississippi

Tornado killed more than 20 people, left thousands without power

ROLLING FORK: Outside, houses are torn open and trees lie with their roots in the air. Inside, stretchers are lined up in front of tables overflowing with food. In Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where a tornado caused chaos and death, volunteers are pouring in from surrounding towns to help. The American Red Cross moved into a National Guard building less than 24 hours after the tornado struck Friday night, killing at least 25 people in the community of 2,000.

Some 4,800 customers were without power in Mississippi, and nearly 11,000 homes and businesses remained in the dark in neighboring Alabama, monitor reported. President Joe Biden ordered federal aid to Mississippi on Sunday to support local recovery efforts. The funding will provide grants for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, the White House said in a statement.

‘A bomb went off’ An ambulance is parked at the entrance of a room being used as an infirmary and, through the back door, boxes full of cereal bars and baby diapers keep arriving. “We’re trying to give people a place to stay overnight with food and medical support so they can just have a place to lay their heads, because they’ve lost everything,” said John Brown, a Red Cross official for Alabama and Mississippi. The city is “like a war zone,” he said.

“It looks like a bomb went off.” Whether or not residents choose to stay in the town center, they will at least have access to information and food and regain some strength, Brown said. Anna Krisuta, 43, and her 16-year-old son Alvaro Llecha sit in the shelter, one on a stretcher, the other on a chair, electric blue energy drinks in front of them. Their house is “in pieces,” Anna Krisuta says, putting on a brave smile. Both pull out their cell phones to show the extent of the damage, captured on video. The pair are not sure whether they will spend the night at the center.

Maybe they’d prefer to sleep in the car, Alvaro said, giving his mother a hesitant look. The teenager said he survived only by hiding in the bathroom, which he considered was the safest room in their house. “I thought I was going to die,” he said, recounting the strong wind “rushing in through the bottom of the door.” ‘Resilience’ Lauren Hoda travelled 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Vicksburg to Rolling Fork to volunteer. She described the mixture of sadness, grief and anger she feels at the “injustice” inflicted on the residents.

“When I woke up this morning, I wanted to cry for the people of this town because I don’t think they had much time before (the tornado) came. There were people eating in restaurants, families in bed,” said the 28-year-old, who also experienced Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She spent her Saturday night at Rolling Fork bringing donations from collection points: water, food, canned goods, diapers, wipes, medicine, deodorant, and toothpaste. Jon Gebhardt, an assistant professor of military science at the University of Mississippi, travelled three hours to Rolling Fork, arriving in the middle of the night to help set up the center.

“I cried quite a bit today,” he said. “But this morning, when I woke up and saw the generosity and ability of this community to come together at such a difficult time, (I felt) lucky to be in Mississippi.” He said he was confident in the resilience of the Mississippi Delta. “Will this community rebuild for the better and become a better version of itself in the next few years? Yes, I think so.” Danger not over Storm chaser Aaron Rigsby told AFP he arrived in Rolling Fork right after the storm hit, in the pouring rain and with “lightning still all around.”

“When I got there, it was just a constant cry of voices screaming for help from people that were trapped,” he said, adding he helped residents to free a few people from their destroyed homes. The National Weather Service issued a rare tornado emergency for Rolling Fork and surrounding areas at 9:00 pm Friday, warning people to seek shelter from life-threatening conditions and forecasting golf ball-sized hail. The NWS warned residents that as clean-up operations continue, “dangers remain even after the storms move on.” Tornadoes, a weather phenomenon notoriously difficult to predict, are relatively common in the United States, especially in the central and southern parts of the country. In January, a series of damaging twisters, all on the same day, left several people dead in Alabama and Georgia. — AFP

Check Also
Back to top button