While prayers are needed, so is action in the communities impacted by the tornado last week.
As a believer, I can attest to the absolute power of prayers and positive thoughts to affect comfort, help and outcomes. I respect the power of prayer – and I have been the direct beneficiary of the prayers of others in my own life.
But in Rolling Fork, Silver City, Amory, the Summerfield community in Carroll County and other Mississippi communities this week, those prayers need to be accompanied by disaster relief funds, bottled water, building supplies, and people with chain saws and heavy equipment and people to operate them.
The state’s governmental leadership – including Republicans and Democrats alike – have engaged from the White House to what’s left of Rolling Fork and Sharkey County’s local governments to get help organized and deployed. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is leading a host of agencies in response.
Mississippi’s faith-based community and the private sector are likewise engaged. From organizations like the Mississippi Farm Bureau and the state’s Rotary International clubs, people are working. But in Rolling Fork and Silver City, where the devastation is so pervasive, the need is great and the road to normalcy is long.
My late mother was a graduate of Silver City High School in the final year of the Great Depression. There were 12 students in that class – and all 12 survived the Great Flood of 1927. That’s the maddening thing about Mississippi – we are really, really good at navigating natural disasters because as a state we’ve endured so many of them.
As a child, she lived five miles south of Silver City in the Humphreys County hamlet of Midnight. In that cataclysmic flood, Midnight was just one tiny community in the confluence of the Sunflower River, Yazoo River and Big Black River sub-basins that met in the 1927 flood.
Mississippi’s status as a part of the nation’s “Tornado Alley” is legendary, and few towns in Mississippi haven’t had their day in the barrel. The mileposts on that lonely road read Smithville, Water Valley, Candlestick Park, Vicksburg, Inverness, Natchez, Tupelo, Yazoo City, and Louisville – and so many, many more. –
As a young reporter in my hometown of Philadelphia, I remember the agonizing search for a little girl taken by a tornado on April 2, 1982, near the Neshoba County Fairgrounds – a search that ended in misery for her family. Three people died that day and 40 were injured across Leake, Neshoba and Kemper counties.
If tornadoes aren’t frightening enough, Mississippi has also been home to two of the most severe and most costly hurricanes in U.S. history in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Camille in 1969. I covered the aftermath of Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it was – to say the least – a profound experience.
After the storms, after the disasters, after poverty and insularity and isolation do their work, there is where Mississippi and Mississippians often shine brightest. As history reflects, Mississippians are capable – as are our neighbors across the country – of great violence and cruelty.
But we also are capable of and demonstrative of a great capacity for kindness, generosity and service to neighbors and strangers alike. The miseries we have historically shared – meteorological, sociological or economic – have left us as the most generous and giving people in America on a per-capita basis.
As previously noted, Mississippi churches and charitable groups step aggressively into the breach of disasters like the tornadoes that pounded Mississippi this week. These inexplicable disasters produce acts of kindness and investments in recovery that often put government relief efforts to shame. Here’s hoping that happens in this instance.
It’s important to note that the March 24 storms slammed some of the poorest people in Mississippi, those least able to help themselves in the wake of such loss and devastation. In Sharkey and Humphreys counties, at least one-third of the populace lives in poverty according to Census data.
The fastest way for individuals to help is by contacting the Red Cross (https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation.html ), the Salvation Army (helpsalvationarmy.org or by texting MSTORNADOES to 51555), or the Miss. Emergency Management Agency (www.msema.org).