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Hundreds are displaced after tornado hits Mississippi

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Federal aid is on the way to disaster-struck Mississippi. At least 25 people were killed in that state. Dozens more were injured, and hundreds more were displaced when an unusually powerful tornado tore through the state late Friday into early Saturday. Now communities in four counties are struggling to recover. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports from the hard-hit region.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What time y'all leaving tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hey, Kim.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Look...

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In the rural Mississippi Delta community of True Light, friends and relatives are helping Kimberly Berry salvage some of her belongings. Her home took a direct hit from the tornado.

KIMBERLY BERRY: It literally just tore it up.

ELLIOTT: The roof and walls are gone, strewn yards away on farmland behind the house, along with her furniture. Only the floorboards remain.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Hey, give me something.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You said (inaudible). I saw that one...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Give me that little pole or whatever.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

ELLIOTT: A young woman is ripping out the back of a soaked and ruined chest of drawers, trying to find a dry piece of clothing. Berry says she sheltered in a nearby church during the tornado and came back to find little left.

BERRY: Only thing I wanted was my car keys, my medicine and my holy oil. My oil, I found it, and my keys. As soon as I walked up on that platform, I found and I saw my medicine laying over there 'cause I'm a diabetic. I got that, and I'm content.

ELLIOTT: Berry has two daughters and works as a supervisor at a farm. She's staying with her sister for now and figures she'll have to start from scratch, perhaps put a mobile home on the property. She's determined to keep a resilient spirit.

BERRY: I mean, I can get all this back. I'm not sad. I'm not mad. I'm not going to be depressed. I'm not going to be none of that because I lost everything, but I gained another day above ground. That's it. I mean, I can't ask for nothing else.

ELLIOTT: Hundreds of Mississippi families are going through the same thing, trying to figure out what's next. Federal aid is now available after President Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves.

TATE REEVES: The help is on the way.

ELLIOTT: Reeves toured the devastation in Rolling Fork, Miss., with federal officials today. The city's business district has been wiped out, and entire neighborhoods have been reduced to piles of debris. He says the initial search and rescue effort is winding down after 300 teams combed through the area.

REEVES: We do believe that we have searched in most of the rubble. There's still a lot of damage out there. There's a lot of work to be done if you don't have power, if you don't have water.

ELLIOTT: Reeves says the federal resources made available by the disaster declaration should help speed that phase of the recovery. But he warned that's only the beginning of a long road ahead for the hardest-hit communities. Both the FEMA administrator, Deanne Criswell, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said their agencies will remain active in the rebuilding.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: We've come to see it in person to communicate to the people of Mississippi that we are here, not just today, but for the long haul.

ELLIOTT: Back in the True Light community, Kimberly Berry says rebuilding won't be easy, but she's not complaining.

BERRY: I'm just going to go through and salvage what I can. You know, if I have to stay with a relative, I will. But I'm literally fine with it because, like I said, my life is more important than whatever's out there across that field.

ELLIOTT: A sentiment echoed by many here, counting their blessings in the chaos.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Rolling Fork, Miss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.