Biden visits storm-devastated Mississippi town
The March 24 storm was one of the worst in state history, killing at least 21 people and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses in several counties. As the president toured the damage on Friday — seeing overturned vehicles, downed power lines and gutted structures — he marveled at the power and whims of the storm.
“It’s a difficult thing,” he told reporters before his speech. “And the thing that has really always amazed me that all the tornadoes I’ve been through recently is that we have a house standing, a house from here to the wall, totally destroyed. But for the grace of God.
His visit was an attempt to show local residents, most of whom are black, that the federal government would not leave them behind, despite concerns from some residents about a lack of investment in emergency preparedness. The message was in line with Biden’s broader drive to address the inequalities faced by black Americans and direct government support toward people who have felt neglected by Washington.
Biden’s trip unfolded against the backdrop of former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented indictment, the kind of event that can easily distract the nation’s attention from the plight of a small town hit by a tornado surrounded by corn, soybean, rice and cotton fields. .
Biden chose not to weigh in on the indictment on Friday, even as his presidential visit to Rolling Fork created the kind of split-screen his aides hope will reap political benefits as voters watch him acquit of his duties while his predecessor continues to generate controversy.
“I have no comment on Trump,” Biden told reporters before leaving Washington for Mississippi, repeatedly refusing to weigh in on his predecessor’s difficult legal situation.
In delivering his remarks, Biden had a brief verbal stumble at one point, saying, “The city of Rolling Stone will be back,” before correcting himself with the community’s good name.
“I have my mind going here,” he said.
Ahead of Biden’s visit, the White House announced that the federal government would cover the full cost of state emergency measures here, such as debris removal and shelter operations. It came days after Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Mississippi, unlocking federal aid to aid recovery efforts after tornadoes produced wind gusts over 166 mph.
The president was joined on Friday by first lady Jill Biden, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge and other administration officials. Governor Tate Reeves and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, and Democratic Representative Bennie G. Thompson were also among the lawmakers on the scene.
Reeves thanked Biden for his commitment, saying the presidential visit to this slice of small-town America meant a lot.
“I appreciate that the President of the United States is standing here in Sharkey County, Mississippi to deliver a speech today and hear from those most affected,” Reeves said.
Earlier in the week, Reeves noted, “It’s been my experience in times like this that there are no politics.”
Still, Biden’s decision to visit Rolling Fork — after refusing to visit other places recently hit by tragedy — had its own political implications.
According to the latest Census Bureau figures, the community of about 2,000 in Mississippi’s Lower Delta has a population that is more than 80 percent black, with about 21 percent living below the poverty line. The community voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020, even as the state of Mississippi backed Trump by more than 16 points.
Biden has come under fire from Republicans for choosing not to visit East Palestine, Ohio, where a February train derailment spewed toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, while GOP critics said he was overlooking a conservative, predominantly white city. Biden said he plans to visit the venue but has not yet made the trip. Trump visited eastern Palestine in February.
Biden has yet to attend the scene of a mass shooting in Nashville, where a gunman killed six people, including three school children, on Monday. The massacre came just as Biden planned to launch his “Invest in America” tour of events across the country to promote his economic agenda. Biden said he was considering a visit to Nashville, although the White House said no plans have been finalized.
As Biden toured the Rolling Fork wreckage, much of the nation braced for another bout of bad weather. Outlook maps released by the National Weather Service warned of an outbreak of severe weather, including thunderstorms and tornadoes, that could impact communities from Iowa to Arkansas.
Overall, more than 85 million Americans faced a high threat from dangerous storms. “We’re still watching the weather,” Criswell told reporters. “And I’m very concerned about the number of storms coming in and the storms we might see today.”