Top USDA officials are hopscotching across the Deep South today to check out the devastation caused by tornadoes and floods and discuss federal assistance programs with farmers, ranchers, business people, and residents. Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager and Acting Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse flew by helicopter over flood-ravaged counties in Mississippi yesterday and planned to tour Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri as well.

“Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the disasters,” said Scuse.  “Our first-hand assessments will allow us to identify the unique farm safety net and rural community development needs of the impacted region.”

Numerous federal agencies are involved in various aspects of disaster relief.  The government said a central point for information and applications is the Web site  Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said the government hoped to improve on its response since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“One of the criticisms of Katrina was the federal response was inadequate, so even while the water’s here, we want those individuals and agencies who have the responsibility for dealing with the response to be on the ground; to know where it is, so when the water recedes, we can get on the business of getting those communities made whole again,” Thompson said.