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Biden to Speak after Touring Tornado-Ravaged Mississippi; Biden to Speak after Surveying Tornado Damage in Mississippi; Biden: "We'll do everything in my power" to help MS Tornado Victims. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 14:30   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: We've been closely following President Biden's visit to Rolling Fork, Mississippi and at any moment we are expecting to hear from the President. He is there meeting with local officials and residents. Touring the deadly aftermath of last week's powerful EF-4 tornado that touchdown and just devastated that area.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: There you see him with the First Lady just talking to residents there. At least 21 people died and the threat is not over. Right now parts of the Mississippi Valley are under a level five risk for severe storms if you can believe that. That is the highest level.

That means that the area could once again see potentially violent tornadoes over the next several hours. People hard hit last week are being told to be prepared once again horrible. CNN White House Reporter Priscilla Alvarez is following the President in the town of Rolling Fork. So Priscilla, what can we expect to hear from him in just a few minutes?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can expect him to reaffirm his commitment and the federal government's commitment to getting resources to this region. As you can see, he is behind me he is meeting with residents. As he has surveyed the damage he has been speaking to those who have been impacted.

And really you can't overstate the devastation in this community, buildings, homes completely leveled trucks and vehicles turned over on their side so that is what President Biden is seeing and talking to the residents who have been affected. I spoke with some of them this morning. They said they're grateful that he is here.

They're getting the help and resources they need. But that is what we're going to be hearing in his remarks today. Some of what he will announce includes the federal government covering the full cost of state emergency measures that includes removing debris shelter operations, as well as paying overtime to first responders.

FEMA will also be opening disaster recovery centers. Now all of this comes on the heels of a briefing that he had moments ago with federal and state officials. He again will be pledging to stay on the ground and get these recovery efforts up and running for a community that as you can see around me has been devastated and that he is hearing from firsthand.

Remember, this is a moment where the President Biden really serves as Consoler in Chief and he is slowly taking his time to get to the podium to hear from folks, of course, though, Bianna and Boris, this comes against the backdrop of the historic indictment of a Former President, President Donald Trump.

Now President Biden has declined to comment on the matter that is in line with the strategy he's taken over the course of his presidency to not weigh in on ongoing legal cases and more so focused on the issues that have a tangible effect on Americans. That's his focus today. That's what we'll be hearing. More on is the recovery Bianna and Boris.

GOLODRYGA: And as we said, we'll bring you his comments as soon as they began. Priscilla, thank you. Well, for more on today's major tornado threat once again for the area. Let's bring in CNN Meteorologist Chad Myer. So Chad shows us the area we're talking about and God forbid could it be around the same area where these people just suffered the massive tornadoes a few days ago.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: If that happens, it would be well after dark and likely after midnight, which would be even worse if we do get these storms that can travel that far. Right now the ones I'm really worried about are in Arkansas, not that far from Hot Springs also up into Iowa storms are beginning to fire all of these lightning bolts just in the past 15 or 20 minutes.

This red zone though you said where is it? The red zone all the way from Northern Iowa all the way down now to almost Shreveport those are tornado watches. But inside of those tornado watches are tornado warnings and we have had some storms that have been rotating already this afternoon.

And this is early in the day. Typically this is four or five o'clock in the heat of the day. These storms are not waiting. There is a storm right there to the west of Hot Springs that I am very worried about likely travels to the Northwest of Hot Springs proper. But if you are in Hot Springs you need to be taking cover right now. Right now that's how serious this is.

You said level five, level five of five. This isn't like level five of 10. This is the worst we get. These are the biggest threats that we see from Davenport Quad Cities and then on this side over here, Memphis. Those are two separate areas of high risk where severe storms will fire today.

And that severe storms Forecast Center very concerned about the rotation of some of these likely EF2, 3 or higher on some of these storms today and then by tomorrow they're gone. There couldn't be some severe weather in New York on the residual side of this.

[14:35:00] But today is going to be a serious day. A day to take very seriously a day to make sure that your radio is on your phone is on you have a way to get the warnings if you are in the Midwest, possibly all the way to Chicago. So keep that in mind, millions and millions of people involved here.

SANCHEZ: That is a huge amount of space, a huge area of concern, I should say. And especially for those folks that were already impacted in Mississippi. Chad Myers thanks so much for breaking that down for us!

As we've been noting, President Biden is taking a long time and talking to local officials and residents there hearing what they have to share with him about what they've endured. At any moment he is going to head to the podium and make some remarks as soon as he does we will bring them to live stay with CNN.



GOLODRYGA: We're going straight to Rolling Fork, Mississippi where we're expecting at any moment the President to speak to the devastation there from those powerful tornadoes just earlier this past week. Boris, we saw the President touring there with the First Lady, I mean, the images behind them. And that backdrop just speaks for itself the damage that these storms caused and the impact that it had enough routing so many lives and taking lives as well.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it really heartbreaking pictures from Rolling Fork and the surrounding areas. This was an EF-4 tornado that touchdown and went for about 60 miles destroying everything in its path killing some two dozen people. And as we've seen so often President Biden is visiting a community that is dealing with tragedy and loss and acting as Consoler in Chief.

And Bianna what I find really notable about this moment is that we can't ignore the history right? Donald Trump the Former President indicted reportedly some 30 counts of business fraud, and yet President Biden refusing to comment on that he was asked repeatedly before heading to Mississippi, three separate times saying he will not comment on the indictment. Rather, he wants to focus on the folks enrolling Fork and what they need, and getting them the resources they need to get back on their feet.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, to be fair, I believe this is a strategy the administration was planning to take to begin with, regardless of whether the President would be traveling or staying in Washington. But as you said, I mean, this is something that is not top of mind, understandably, for residents of Rolling Fork, Mississippi now, given what they just endured, and the devastation and the amount of resources needed to rebuild this community.

We saw the President talking to a family, the young child, just standing before their homes that completely was been - had been leveled. And remember, these storms happen in the middle of the night as well, were the most dangerous times for these storms to come through a neighborhood given that most people are at home asleep.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and really one of the startling things as Chad Myers was pointing out only a few minutes ago, as we're watching video of President Biden, speaking to families in the area, is that there are parts of Mississippi that are right now under tornado watches. Let's listen to Benny Thompson, who's at the microphone right now.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): A statement of commitment on the part of our federal, state and local partners, that in fact, help is not just on the way. But help is here. The notion that seven days ago, all the buildings you see around us, they were alive, vibrant, communities of Rolling Fork was made home.

And so in those seven short days, we come to this, and we now have to fix it and get it right. I made a call to the President and said we need help. We got a record declaration in terms of a disaster based on just what we see here today.

And so it's important that as a community, we continue to pull together after people have left, we still have a long way to go. And we rely on not just the federal and state and local partners, but our nonprofit partners who have joined us also, that's absolutely important, the church communities.

I'd like to single out the Sharkey County Board of Supervisors. They've stepped up in a mighty way and really have done what's required. The Mayor and Board of Aldermen of Rolling Fork have also but on Friday night that was help coming from all over the Delta.

Greenville, Mississippi, Yazoo City, Vicksburg all those communities came to help. And that's what mutual aid is all about. So we personally thank you for that. So proverbs talks about without a vision, people perish. Well, the vision for this community is you just won't come back but you will come back better.


THOMPSON: And so that's the commitment that you'll hear from later in the presentations. So without further ado, let me introduce the Governor of the State of Mississippi Tate Reeves.

TATE REEVES, GOVERNOR OF MISSISSIPPI: Thank you, Congressman. And thanks to all of you for being here for those of you from around--

GOLODRYGA: We're going to take a quick break as we are waiting to hear from the President from Mississippi, we'll be right back.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You've had to prepare people to be buried who you were with no well. And thanks to Sharkey County officials and local officials and first responders and community members who've worked around the clock rescue survivors.

[14:50:00] BIDEN: They get people to safety, and sort through the wreckage. But Jill and I are here to show our support. Unfortunately, I've been to too many sites like this over the last two years around the country. I've probably with a FEMA Director, better part of 12 to 15.

And I always see the same thing in America. When the neighbor is in trouble, a whole neighborhood comes to help. Walking down the street here, being told by people, the reason we were able to get through it, one family told me when finally the roof came off the house, we're out of the bed, we came back down, all of a sudden, and it was quiet.

Before I knew it, the Red Cross was out front, before I knew it, and went on to talk about the neighbors that help. And folks, I know there's a lot of pain. And it's hard to believe in a moment like this, this community is going to be rebuilt, and rebuilt and build back better than it was before.

Resilience in this community has been remarkable. And I just want you to know, as you fight through this, you're not alone. The American people will be with you. They'll help you through it and so alive. Multiple tornadoes are tore through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee last Friday night.

Most Powerful came through Rolling Fork. It stayed here, just a little over three minutes. Just imagine look at I mean, I know those you've been through it, know, three minutes, three minutes, this neighborhood has basically gone stores, everything gone.

And the most powerful part of the tornado came through Rolling Fork. It stayed here. And it had the effect that was so devastating unless you physically saw it. It's hard to believe. 13 lives lost. I met a number of the families earlier today, Jill and me, my wife and me.

300 homes and businesses are nothing more than piles of twisted materials, mixed up with personal items and mattered so much. Teddy Bears, family albums, clothes, dishes, and basic of life all gone, people still going through the rubble see if they can find that picture of grandma, or that wedding ring that was on that Bureau, or that special memento that means so meant so much to them.

They get lost too. Some of this dysfunction and destruction that you're seeing here it's going to take years to recover and rebuild. But we're starting now. When I spoke to the Governor, he said what he needed most was a federal disaster declaration.

So that the earliest hours of Sunday morning, I signed that expedited major disaster declaration, which gave you more access to more federal resources without decoration or providing funding to cover over time for local emergency responders to cover the cost of removing all debris, and 100 percent of that cost.

We're also authorized in cash grants for people who lost their homes, whether they own or rent, to pay for things that may not be covered by insurance, like temporary housing, home repairs for the for those who have homes still standing, or to replace lost personal property, like furniture and appliances, and vehicles. You know, after talking to Bennie and your Governor, today, I authorized the federal government to cover 100 percent of the cost for removing debris and emergency measures that are keeping up here. By keeping shelters up and running and paying for overtime for everyone 100 percent of the cost not for the state but for us for 30 days.

And then after that we're not leaving either. In the midst of all we're dealing with I know that it's overwhelming. You figure out - we got to figure out how we can help what you need. That's why right now; we have 300 federal personnel on the ground, including FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams to ensure a well-coordinated response to get you the assistance you need.

Walking through damaged neighborhoods to find people need and help them and they're walking through now going on if there are any doors to knock on or people stand up just to find out where everyone in that house was or is? We're trying to make it easy as possible. So on Monday, the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center will reopen in four counties including this one.


So we have a walk in to a situation. Explain your circumstance. Let people know what you need, and learn more about how you can get the help as quickly as possible. Can you hear me? Are you talking to somebody else? I'm sorry.

Look, you know, you can also apply for assistance for FEMA online. On the online is disaster or call 1-800-621-3362 1-800- 621-3362. Already 1700 people 1700 people have signed up for help. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has made sure families qualifying for supplemental nutrition assistance program, so called SNAP program can use these benefits for meals in grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, the dollar store, and other vehicles.

We can use that SNAP money and that SNAP material to get meals you need. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge is here and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is here, because we're bringing every element of the federal government together to help with immediate needs and long term rebuilding.

For example, the Department of Agriculture is identifying temporary housing, reimbursing farmers and livestock owners for lost crops and lost livestock. The Small Business Administration is here, helping businesses get low interest loans recover and to rebuild.

And if you don't have insurance, or you're underinsured, FEMA can help you get started by funding your home repairs, replacing some lost and damaged property, like cars and refrigerators. I know how important it is for the post office is all too many of you in every communities where most people get their prescriptions these days.

Well, we're working to make sure you can still have access to them. The way what we're doing is the National Postal Service is going to set up temporary post office, which you've already seen on the grounds of the present post office was not usable. I also want to note that some of these communities are again facing the threat of severe weather. And just one week later, if you've looked at the weather forecast. FEMA and other federal personnel are here on the ground, ready to respond and to support state and local officials if in fact, they do mount to major storms.

I want to urge everyone here to listen to local officials and be prepared to take shelter. It will go - we've got to go through this together again if that happens. And let me close with this message. The people have Rolling Fork and Amory in Silver City and Carlton Winona those other communities that have been hit.

We're not just here for today. I'm determined and we're going to leave nothing behind. We're going to get it done for you. That's why I'm here. Why your Congress here? Why the Governor's here? We're focused on now on making sure you got the place to sleep, food to eat, helping you rebuild your lives in Rolling Stone.

But long term I know. This is your community. This is where you built your lives. We're going to make sure you can stay right here. There's nothing we can do to heal the hole in your hearts left by the 13 people who passed many of whom I met their families. Melissa Price. Lonnie Price Mary Bush, Doris Harris, David Moore, Phyllis Maxi, Darrell Shimmy - Purvis, Linda Herman, Erica Moore, Brenda Odom's, April Johnson, LaVette Herman, Wendy Kelly.

As I've told some of the survivors, we all have had experiences not the same, but getting that sudden experience of loss, someone who's devastating. It's absolutely devastating. And we kind of understand it. But I've heard incredible stories about the spirit of these families and the resilience and your bravery.

The Town of Rolling Stone, we'll be back. And we'll be with you every step of the way. And I wrote - that I went, I say I did. I said, Rolling Fork, Rolling Stone. I got my mind going here. We'll be back. And we'll be with you every step of the way. So God bless you all. And God bless our first responders. Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: There we heard the President reflecting on the 13 lives lost in the terrible tornadoes in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. This week reiterating his support federally for debris removal there and FEMA there also to help people in the community as they rebuild and as they recover reminding them that they are not alone.