Deadly tornadoes leave rural Mississippi towns in utter destruction
More than a dozen tornadoes reportedly ripped through Mississippi and Alabama on Friday night, killing at least 24 and leaving a 100-mile-wide swath of devastation as severe weather continues to threaten parts of the southeastern United States and the Ohio Valley on Saturday.
Across Rolling Fork, the destruction is utter: homes and businesses reduced to rubble, mangled cars overturned, and massive trees uprooted – it’s all part of one of the deadliest tornadoes in Mississippi history. Sharkey and Humphreys counties, two predominantly black rural areas of the state, were hardest hit, particularly their towns of Rolling Fork and Silver City.
“The loss will be felt in these cities forever,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) wrote on Twitter. He later added “Devastating damage – as everyone knows. It’s a tragedy.
The tornadoes spread from the Louisiana border to the Winona, Mississippi area, according to officials’ estimates. The deadly devastation was amplified by the ferocity of the tornadoes, which crushed many mobile homes in the area, which are more vulnerable to destruction by damaging winds. The storm’s nighttime track surprised residents as they slept.
Throughout the night and into the morning, winds were blowing up to 80 mph as patches of rain and hail the size of golf balls battered the area. At least four people remain missing, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA, confirmed this morning, and the death toll is expected to rise. Dozens more are injured.
“Much of the city has been destroyed,” former Rolling Fork mayor Fred Miller said in an interview with Fox Weather.
“The storm arrived a few minutes after 8 p.m., my wife and I had taken precautions and ended up in a middle room, in a bathroom, and the whole house shook, then we heard blown windows and debris falling,” Miller said.
“We had to help the dead bodies out of the house,” hard-hit Rolling Fork resident Shanta Howard told local TV station WAPT. “Actually seeing people lose their lives to bad weather like this.”
“What went through my mind? Lord, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die,” she said. “I don’t want me or the kids to die.”
Some storm chasers believe a “wedge” tornado could be the cause of the wreckage. This type of tornado appears to be wider than it is tall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Some of the largest and most destructive tornadoes in history” have been wedge tornadoes, AccuWeather said.
The wedge tornado was likely on the ground for 90 minutes covering 80 miles as it ripped through west-central Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service.
A “very high caliber” tornado kicked up debris more than 30,000 feet, said Samuel Emmerson, a member of the University of Oklahoma Radar Research Group. on Twitter.
President Joe Biden called the footage from Mississippi soil ‘heartbreaking’ in a statement and said he spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell to focus support for the affected area.
Explained: how the Mississippi tornadoes unfolded
There is a tornado warning for southern Georgia starting Saturday afternoon and some severe thunderstorm watches are in effect. The worst of the storm is over, but the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center is still predicting “isolated” severe thunderstorms Saturday for parts of the Southeast and the Ohio Valley. Pittsburgh; Akron, Ohio; Montgomery, Alabama; and Tallahassee could still face more severe storms.
More than 50,000 customers in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama were without power as of noon Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us, a site that tracks and aggregates power outage data from utility companies.
The National Weather Service warns of the ongoing danger of tornado fallout, warning residents to stay away from power lines and beware of damaged buildings and walking or driving through floodwaters.
“Do not enter a damaged building until local authorities have declared it safe. Leave your home if there are changing or unusual noises,” reads a fact sheet from the Jackson office of the National Weather Service.
“During severe weather, your reports help get the message out to those who haven’t been impacted by the weather yet. We always welcome any reports you send us today as the sun rises, and you have a better idea of the damage that has occurred,” the office said. said on Twitter.
Several counties in Mississippi have reported deaths. In Sharkey County, one of the hardest-hit towns, at least 13 people have died, coroner Angelia Easton told media. Monroe County Coroner Alan Gurley told The Washington Post that there have been at least two deaths in Wren, a community in northeast Mississippi.
There has been at least one death in Silver City, Humphreys County, Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Jose Watson said in a video. And at least three deaths have occurred in Carroll County, coroner Mark Stiles told WTVA.
In Alabama, a 67-year-old man was killed in his home in Morgan County, the Washington Post has confirmed.
Weber, Bella and McDaniel reported from Washington. Adam Lynch in Rolling Fork, Mississippi; Kim Bellware in Chicago; Jason Samenow, Lauren Lumpkin and Samuel Granados in Washington; Niha Masih in Seoul; and Adela Suliman and Victoria Bisset in London contributed reporting.