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LITTLE ROCK - Arkansans have been approved for federal disaster assistance in the wake of deadly destruction caused by Friday tornadoes that cut across the state and left five people dead.
Deanne Criswell, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, joined Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, and Lt. Gov. Leslie Rutledge in a Sunday morning news conference in Little Rock.
Criswell announced that President Joe Biden has approved federal disaster assistance for the state where there were five storm-related fatalities. Four people died in Wynne and one person suffered a heart attack and died in North Little Rock.
"It's really important for me to be able to get here on the ground and talk to the local and the state officials so I can see first hand and hear the stories of what these communities have faced," Criswell said. "I think one of the hardest parts of my job is that I come into these communities that have experienced such devastation. But I would also say that one of the other parts of my job is I get to see communities like Little Rock, the neighbors, coming together helping each other out."
There were up to 70,000 people who lost power at one time in the Little Rock area. Sunday afternoon the number was down to 5,600, officials reported.
Criswell talked about the firefighters from Station 9 who had to help about 20 people who came to the fire station for shelter and save themselves when the tornado heavily damaged the station in west Little Rock Friday.
"They immediately went out doing lifesaving efforts, some of them not knowing if their own families had been impacted," Criswell said. "So the historic work of these first responders, I just commend all of them for the work they continue to do. But I also want to commend the neighbors. I often say that our true first responders are the neighbors because they are immediately out there in the neighborhood helping the ones that they care for get to safety. Those are the stories I heard today."
She said people she spoke with were more worried about neighbors than their own destroyed homes.
"That's the kind of hope that I think comes from incidents like this and that's the kind of inspiration I get when I come to communities like Little Rock," Criswell said.
"President Biden did approve the request for the disaster declaration this morning," Criswell said. "That means that there is now assistance from the federal government to support the incredible efforts that are underway from the state and the local communities.
In Little Rock, nonprofits have mobilized to help with relief efforts, said Mayor Scott.
"At the end of the day it's about one voice, one opportunity to serve and that's what we're doing right now together," Scott said.
Rutledge toured the devastation in Little Rock. She said emergency alerts issued before the tornado formed and touched down helped save lives. No fatalities in Little Rock were reported. There were four fatalities reported in Wynne and five total statewide, officials reported.
"As we go through these trying days in our state the response is incredible, the response before the storms hit and devastated these homes, the emergency alerts that went out, the news media, the local media that took care of our friends and neighbors that's what allowed these families to get into those rooms of safety in their homes," Rutledge said.
"Where homes were devastated, "Rutledge said. "What we didn't see were homes that were devastated and lives lost. And it is because of those emergency responders and the emergency responses going out. "Tragically, we lost five Arkansans' lives in this,"
"Tragically, we lost five Arkansans' lives in this," Rutledge said. "And we are going to lift those Arkansans and their families up in our prayers. But as you heard from the administrator, the mayor and our governor, Arkansans are resilient."
Criswell was scheduled to meet with Gov. Sarah Sanders in Wynne Sunday afternoon.
Rutledge said, "Whether it's North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Sherwood or right here in Little Rock, Arkansas truly is one big small town. And we are out in full force picking up the pieces, putting these lives back together."
Rutledge thanked Criswell for coming to Arkansas.
"It was really God's hand that reached down and made sure that we didn't have more tragedies in the midst of the destruction," Rutledge said.
A city family assistance center will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at 315 Shackelford Road for residents who need help. Emmanuel Baptist Church is assisting.
People affected by the tornado can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 to find out how to get assistance.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: President Biden approves federal disaster relief for Arkansas