Robin Roberts Says 'We Can't Be Numb' to Aftermath of Deadly Mississippi Tornado (Exclusive)

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The Good Morning America anchor will be reconnecting with the devastated community of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on live TV next week

Craig Barritt/Getty Images Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts is heading to Rolling Fork, Mississippi, next week to cover the aftermath of last month's tragic storms.

The Good Morning America anchor, 62, tells PEOPLE exclusively that she is approaching her coverage with empathy — similar to when Hurricane Katrina hit her home state back in 2005.

Recalling the destruction that was caused by the Category 5 storm — including the severe damage done to her alma mater, Pass Christian High School — Roberts details the emotions she felt while covering Katrina.

"I broke down on the air and I thought I was gonna lose my job. It was just the opposite. They said, 'Thank you for being vulnerable,' " Roberts says. "Authenticity and vulnerability, that's a strength and not a weakness, especially for journalists, to be real. I knew already before that, and since Katrina, I've been more empathetic."

Now, ahead of her journey to Rolling Fork, PEOPLE can exclusively reveal Roberts and GMA's "Mississippi Strong" multiphase coverage of the community's efforts, where the newscaster will cover the recent tragedy on the ground in hopes that it will encourage viewers to offer a helping hand.

Related:Robin Roberts Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary of GMA Return After Bone Marrow Transplant: 'You Can Thrive'

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty
Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty

On April 26, Roberts will be co-anchoring live throughout GMA in the area, where a March 24 tornado killed 13 residents and destroyed over 300 structures, according to the Associated Press's latest numbers. The anchor will be on the ground as part of the three-phase initiative — where the community looks to clean up, rebuild and reopen the city.

Some residents took shelter in their vehicles during the storm, others saw their entire homes leveled, and a select few survived by simply trusting their immediate reactions by sheltering in the nearest available location.

"We can't become numb," Roberts explains. "There are real people behind our numbness. And I just believe in the good. I believe people want to do good, and they just want to be shown how they can do it and how the resources they can give can be best put to use."

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After the storm, Roberts hopped on air to speak with a group of locals impacted by the natural disaster — including Tracy Harden, the owner of Chuck's Dairy Bar — who rushed her staff into a walk-in cooler moments before her business was quickly turned to rubble. Roberts plans to reconnect with Harden during her visit to Rolling Fork next week.

"I'm just looking forward to hugging her," Roberts says. "I told her that I can't wait. That's what we do down South. That's how we roll. But [being on the ground is] really to see firsthand with my own eyes. To be able to truly convey to the audience where we are now almost a month later."

"I call it the 3 Rs," she continues. "Right now, they're still removing debris. And then they rebuild. And then they reopen. We want to be with them at every phase."

Adds Roberts: "That's Mississippi. We're resilient. We're like any other state: we have our issues. But in the end, we come together. And that's what I've seen in Rolling Fork and other parts of the state — is we rally around one another. We put aside all differences and just help out where the need is wanted."

Related:8 People Survive Tornado Inside Restaurant's Walk-In Cooler: 'We Are Grieving, But We Are Alive'

ABC
ABC

Roberts explains that GMA's hallmark is to "follow up and follow through," and while she doesn't want to rush to travel to Rolling Fork while the community is still in shock, she also wants her viewers to see their "ongoing journey" of rebuilding for themselves.

"I just want people to not forget, and to see our coverage and go, 'Oh, that's right. I remember. These women hid in a freezer.' So I want them to jog their memory about how they felt the morning after when they saw this," she tells PEOPLE. "And I would like our viewers to know that they can help, and just to show them how they can help."

"I know that Rolling Fork isn't the only community that's been devastated," Roberts adds. "But it's a good example for people ... if they're not able to help in Rolling Fork, it can remind them, 'Oh yes, in my own backyard, X, Y and Z are needed, I want to do something.' I want it to cause a reaction that leads to action."

Good Morning America airs weekdays at 7 a.m. ET on ABC.

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