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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 the foundation and random belongings—a toppled refrigerator, a dresser and matching nightstand, a bag of Christmas decorations, some clothing.
During the storm Friday, Ms. 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.
Ms. Berry shook her head as she looked at the remains of their material possessions. But she said she’s grateful she and her children are still alive.
“I can get all this back. It’s nothing,” said Ms. 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.
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 percent, and Humphreys’ is 33 percent, compared with about 19 percent for Mississippi and less than 12 percent 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.
On Monday, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency revised the state’s death toll from the tornado to 21, down from 25. The agency said the new number is based on deaths confirmed by coroners. MEMA spokeswoman Allie Jasper said the agency does not know of any people still reported missing and not found.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a briefing to emergency managers Monday that preliminary assessments show 313 structures in Mississippi were destroyed and more than 1,000 structures were affected in some way.
The tornado destroyed many homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and the nearby town of Silver City, leaving mounds of lumber, bricks and twisted metal.
In the Rolling Fork area, the local housing stock was already tight, and some who lost their homes said they will live with friends or 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.
Ms. 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. Ms. 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.