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Mississippi tornado recovery tough for low-income residents

ROLLING FORK, Miss. (AP) — A massive tornado obliterated the modest one-story home that Kimberly Berry shared with her two daughters in the Mississippi Delta flatlands, leaving only a foundation and some random belongings — a toppled refrigerator, a dresser and matching nightstand, a bag of Christmas decorations, some clothing.

During the storm Friday, Berry and her 12-year-old daughter huddled and prayed at a nearby church that was barely damaged, while her 25-year-old daughter survived in the hard-hit town of Rolling Fork, some 15 miles away.

Berry shook her head as she looked at the remains of their material possessions. She said she’s grateful she and her children are still alive.

“I can get all this back. It’s nothing,” said Berry, 46, who works as a supervisor at a catfish growing and processing operation. “I’m not going to get depressed about it.”

Like many people in this economically struggling area, she faces an uncertain future. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and the majority-Black Delta has long been one of the poorest parts of Mississippi — a place where many people work paycheck to paycheck in jobs tied to agriculture.

  • Damage is visible Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss., after a tornado ripped through the community. Emergency officials in Mississippi say several people have been killed by tornadoes that tore through the state on Friday night, destroying buildings and knocking out power as severe weather produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Damage is visible Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss., after a tornado ripped through the community. Emergency officials in Mississippi say several people have been killed by tornadoes that tore through the state on Friday night, destroying buildings and knocking out power as severe weather produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • A truck rests atop a building, damaged by the Friday night tornado that hit Rolling Folk, Miss., on Sunday morning, March 26, 2023. Most of the stricken neighborhoods are silent on Sunday morning as the families, friends and neighbors spent Saturday trying to salvage their possessions. The tornado was part of a system of severe weather that moved through several southern states causing death and destruction. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
  • These remnants of homes destroyed by the Friday night tornado that hit Rolling Folk, Miss., are serenely quiet sites on Sunday morning, March 26, 2023, after families, friends and neighbors spent most of Saturday trying to salvage their possessions. The tornado was part of a system of severe weather that moved through several southern states causing death and destruction. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
  • Debris is what remains from a house destroyed by the Friday night tornado in Rolling Folk, Miss., on Sunday morning, March 26, 2023. The area is quiet after families, friends and neighbors spent most of Saturday trying to salvage their possessions. The tornado was part of a system of severe weather that moved through several southern states causing death and destruction. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
  • Rolling For, Miss., Mayor Eldridge Walker speaks with reporters during a news conference, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss., by a delegation of federal, state and local officials, following a tour of one of the areas affected by a tornado. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
  • Wayne Williams stands outside the South Delta CT building in Rolling Fork, Miss., Sunday, March 26, 2023, where he teaches construction skills at the vocational center. Williams was working with others Sunday to clean up some relatively minor damage at the building, resulting from recent severe weather. (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of Rolling Fork, Miss., on Dec. 27, 2022, several months before a tornado caused heavy destruction in the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of Rolling Fork, Miss., Sunday, March 26, 2023, after a tornado wreaked havoc in the area a couple of days earlier. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows homes and buildings along Walnut Street in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Dec. 27, 2022, several months before a tornado tore through the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows destroyed homes and buildings along Walnut Street in Rolling Fork, Miss., Sunday, March 26, 2023, a couple of days after a tornado tore through the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a view of the U.S. Post Office and County Clerk’s Office on Walnut Street in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Dec. 27, 2022, several months ahead of a deadly tornado in the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a view of a damaged U.S. Post Office and County Clerk’s Office on Walnut Street in Rolling Fork, Miss., Sunday, March 26, 2023, a couple of days after a tornado wreaked havoc in the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows homes along Walnut and Mulberry streets in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Dec. 27, 2022, several months before a tornado wreaked havoc in the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows destroyed homes along Walnut and Mulberry streets in Rolling Fork, Miss., Sunday, March 26, 2023, a couple of days after a tornado wreaked havoc in the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows businesses and homes near Blues Highway in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Dec. 27, 2022, several months before a tornado struck the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows destroyed businesses and homes near Blues Highway in Rolling Fork, Miss., Sunday, March 26, 2023, a couple of days after a tornado wreaked havoc in the area. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • Kimberly Berry looks at what’s left of her home outside Anguilla, Miss., Saturday, March 25, 2023, a day after a massive tornado destroyed the one-story structure where she lived with her two daughters. Berry and her 12-year-old daughter survived in a nearby church during the storm, and her 25-year-old daughter survived in the hard-hit town of Rolling Fork. (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)

Two of the counties walloped by the tornado, Sharkey and Humphreys, are among the most sparsely populated in the state, with only a few thousand residents in communities scattered across wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields.

Sharkey’s poverty rate is 35%, and Humphreys’ is 33%, compared to about 19% for Mississippi and under 12% for the entire United States.

“It’s going to be a long road to recovery, trying to rebuild and get over the devastation,” Wayne Williams, who teaches construction skills at a vocational education center in Rolling Fork, said Sunday as people across town hammered blue tarps onto damaged roofs and used chainsaws to cut fallen trees.

The tornado killed 25 and injured dozens in Mississippi. It destroyed many homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and the nearby town of Silver City, leaving mounds of lumber, bricks and twisted metal.

The local housing stock was already tight, and some who lost their homes said they will live with friends of relatives. Mississippi opened more than a half-dozen shelters to temporarily house people displaced by the tornado.

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi early Sunday, making federal funding available to hardest-hit areas.

Berry spent the weekend with friends and family sorting through salvageable items at her destroyed home near a two-lane highway that traverses farm fields. She said she walked to the church before the tornado because her sister called her Friday night and frantically said TV weather forecasters had warned a potentially deadly storm was headed her way. Berry said as the storm rumbled and howled overhead, she tried to ignore the noise.

“That’s the only thing that was stuck in my head was just to pray, pray and cry out to God,” she said Saturday. “I didn’t hear nothing but my own self praying and God answering my prayer. I mean, I can get another house, another furniture. But literally saving my life — I’m thankful.”

Her sister, Dianna Berry, said her own home a few miles away was undamaged. She works at a deer camp, and she said her boss has offered to let Kimberly Berry and her daughters live there for as long as they need.

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