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FEMA head: Mississippi authorities in ‘life-saving’ mode after tornadoes

William Barnes talks about the damage to his property on Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Silver City, Miss. 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…

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell on Sunday said authorities in Mississippi were in “life-saving” and “life-sustaining” mode in the aftermath of a string of tornadoes that have killed at least 25 and injured dozens more in the state.

“I know that from yesterday morning the death toll had risen by two and they’re still very much in life-saving, life-sustaining mode,” Criswell said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “The first responders on the ground are doing such an amazing job, some of which probably have lost some of their homes themselves.”

Criswell, who gave the interview just before departing for Mississippi, praised first responders after tornadoes ravaged the state over the weekend. One of the more devastating tornadoes struck 60 miles northeast of Jackson and traveled across the state, moving northeast toward Alabama. It received a preliminary EF-4 rating, the second-highest score on the National Weather Service’s tornado severity index. That means the tornado had winds between 166 and 200 miles per hour, according to the service. 

President Biden declared a federal emergency early Sunday to aid in the recovery and relief efforts in the state. Criswell said the priority was for the federal government to make sure that all local first responders had the resources they needed.

“The biggest priority for me is, one, making sure that the local jurisdictions, those first responders, have all of the resources that they need,” Criswell said. “And then, second, that we start to take care of these families.”

Criswell said non-governmental organizations, such as the Red Cross, were on the ground in the state offering temporary shelter for families and individuals that had lost their homes.

Criswell said that while an emergency alert system through cell phones is a good way for people to get the notification that a weather disaster is possible, there needs to be more ways to get information to individuals who do not have access to such technology.

Pointing to the fact that many of the areas struck by the tornado in Mississippi live below the poverty line — the string of counties damaged are some of the poorest in the country — Criswell said federal agencies needed to talk to people about the best way to get information to them in an emergency.

“We need to really talk to these families and find out how they would have better gotten this message because we have to always work on giving people early warnings so they can take action, so they have enough time to take action to protect themselves and their families,” Criswell said.

Tags Deanne Criswell FEMA Joe Biden Mississippi tornadoes

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