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Search efforts resume in Rolling Fork, Miss., after a devastating tornado

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to the scene of that devastating tornado over the weekend. Rolling Fork, Miss., is the birthplace of blues great Muddy Waters. That fact is prominently displayed on a website that describes the history of the Delta and all of its many attractions. But those attractions are going to have to take a backseat, at least for now, to another event that is now also on the website, that tornado that leveled homes and businesses. At least 26 people were killed and dozens more injured. Search and recovery efforts are resuming this morning. President Joe Biden has authorized an emergency declaration for Mississippi, providing federal funds for the hardest hit areas.

Yolanda Minor is the Mississippi state director for the humanitarian aid organization Save the Children. We reached her in the city of Indianola to tell us more about what she's seen and heard over the weekend in Rolling Fork and nearby and what's needed there. Yolanda Minor, thanks so much for talking with us.

YOLANDA MINOR: Thank you so much for having me this morning. On arrival, the scene in person was heartbreaking. My thoughts immediately went to families, especially the children with their social-emotional well-being. Their homes and communities were destroyed. They might not even know where their next meal is coming from, where their family and friends are. It is our goal to get this community and these families back to some normal routines.

MARTIN: Ms. Yolanda, let me just ask you a couple of things. First of all, I know you've been with the organization for a number of years now. How would you say this compares to previous disasters where you've rendered aid?

MINOR: This one, I will rank it at about a 10 because as I drove through, everything was flat. There were only, maybe, two buildings left. There were cars thrown everywhere. And literally, families were sitting down side streets. And I can imagine the thoughts that were going through their mind.

MARTIN: And the Delta is where this deadly tornado hit. It's not an affluent area. I think people understand that. And it's also pretty sparsely populated. How does that affect the recovery efforts?

MINOR: It's kind of greatly affected because there were challenges with these communities prior to these tornadoes. They lacked resources. They lacked transportation because of the distance from town to town. Now what it's going to take is community leaders coming together long term to help get this community back to the normal.

MARTIN: Now, your organization, Save the Children, as the name implies, I mean, you have children and families at the center. What would you say are the particular needs for the children right now?

MINOR: For the children, definitely, we need to get them back to normal, make sure that they're having some age-appropriate books, something to hold their attention - making sure they have shelter and food because if their basic, normal needs are not met, nothing else around them is going to matter. So just getting a little bit of normalcy back to the kids, maybe a toy. You know, I thought yesterday, if we can just get a toy in a hand of a child just to see their face light up after such devastation.

MARTIN: Can I just ask you - because this is, like, as I said, such a sparsely populated area, are there any places for people to stay at all? Like, is there a community center? Are any of the churches or schools still standing? Where are people going to stay, say, today?

MINOR: Well, they are going to neighboring towns and shelters have been opened. Old National Guard armories have been opened. The community is really opening up just to ensure that people have a place. But they are still needing things like air mattresses, nonperishable foods and things like that.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, how - and thank you again for your hard work at a time like this. I'm sure it's very much needed. How long do you think this recovery will take, as briefly as you can?

MINOR: It will take a long time. And it's going to take community leaders coming together, pulling resources to ensure these children and families get back to normalcy. And that's what Save the Children does.

MARTIN: That's Yolanda Minor. She's the Mississippi state director for the humanitarian aid organization Save the Children. Yolanda Minor, thank you so much for talking with us.

MINOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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