Mississippi tornadoes kill 23 – The Denver Post


RollingFork, Miss. (AP) – A powerful tornado carved a devastating path of at least 170 miles (274 kilometers) through Mississippi Friday night, killing nearly two dozen people and wiping out dozens of buildings, as it lingered in floor for over an hour.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency warned in a tweet on Saturday that the death toll could exceed the 23 dead and four missing it had identified, saying, “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change.” Meanwhile, other parts of the Deep South were digging in from damage from other suspected tornadoes.

“There’s nothing left,” said Wonder Bolden, holding her granddaughter, Journey, while standing in front of the remains of her mother’s now razed mobile home in Rolling Fork. “There is only the breeze passing, passing – nothing.”

Throughout Saturday morning, she and others wandered around dazed and in shock as they cut through debris and fallen trees with chainsaws, looking for survivors. Power lines were stuck under decades-old oak trees, their roots uprooted from the ground.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency and pledged to help rebuild as he headed for the damage. President Joe Biden also pledged federal aid, calling the damage “heartbreaking.”

Video shot as day broke in the town of Rolling Fork showed homes reduced to piles of rubble, cars flipped on their sides and trees stripped of their branches. Sometimes, amidst the wreckage, a house was spared, apparently intact.

Sheddrick Bell, his partner and two daughters hunkered down in a closet in their home in Rolling Fork for 15 minutes as the tornado ripped through. The family listened as the tornado’s winds spread, shattering windows and knocking down trees. Her daughters couldn’t stop crying. He could hear his partner praying aloud next to him.

“I was just thinking, ‘If I can still open my eyes and move, I’m fine,'” he said.

The National Weather Service sent crews to monitor the tornado, but preliminary information based on storm report estimates and radar data indicates that it was on the ground for more than an hour and traveled at least 170 miles ( 274 kilometers), said Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the weather service office in Jackson, Mississippi.

“It’s rare – very, very rare,” he said, attributing the long run to widespread atmospheric instability. “All the ingredients were there.”

Perrilloux said preliminary findings are that the tornado began its destructive path just southwest of Rolling Fork before continuing northeast toward the rural communities of Midnight and Silver City before moving toward Tchula, Black. Hawk and Winona.

The supercell that produced the deadly tornado also appeared to produce tornadoes that caused damage in northwest and north-central Alabama, said Brian Squitieri, severe storm forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. He said survey teams were working to assess the number of tornadoes that hit Mississippi and Alabama.

The National Weather Service issued an alert Friday evening as the storm hit without mincing words: “To protect your life, COVER YOURSELF NOW!

Cornel Knight told The Associated Press that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck. He said the sky was dark but “you could see the direction of each exploding transformer”.

Knight said he watched from a doorway until the tornado was, he estimated, less than a mile away. Then he told everyone in the house to hide in a hallway. He said the tornado hit another relative’s house across a vast cornfield from where he was standing. A wall of this house collapsed and trapped several people inside.

Royce Steed, the emergency manager for Humphreys County, where Silver City is located, compared the damage to the deadly Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado in 2011 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“It’s almost total devastation,” he said after teams finished searching the buildings and moved on to assessing the damage. “This little old town, I don’t know what its population is, it’s more or less wiped off the map.”

In the city, the roof had torn off the house of Noel Crook, where he lives there with his wife.

“Yesterday was yesterday and here we go – there’s nothing I can do about it,” Crook said. “Tomorrow is not here yet. You have no control over that, so here I am today.

The tornado appeared so powerful on radar as it approached the town of Amory, about 40 miles southeast of Tupelo, that a Mississippi meteorologist stopped to say a prayer after the arrival of new radar information.

“Oh man,” WTVA’s Matt Laubhan said during the live broadcast. “Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen.”

Now that this city is boiling its water, a curfew is in effect.

The damage in Rolling Fork was so widespread that several storm chasers – who track the weather and often broadcast live streams showing dramatic funnel clouds – pleaded for search and rescue assistance. Others gave up the chase to drive the injured themselves to hospitals.

Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital, located on the west side of Rolling Fork, was damaged and its patients were transferred to other hospitals and nursing facilities, state emergency management officials said in an email.

And gas lines were cut in Rolling Fork for the safety of residents and first responders, the email said.

According to poweroutage.us, 40,000 customers were without power in Tennessee; 15,000 customers were left without power in Mississippi; and 20,000 were without power in Alabama.

Rolling Fork and its surroundings are filled with vast expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish breeding ponds. More than half a dozen shelters have been opened across the state by emergency officials.

Meteorologists saw a high risk of a tornado coming for the general region up to a week in advance, said Walker Ashley, professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University.

He said he was discussing it with colleagues as early as March 17, and the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center issued a long-range warning for the area two days later.

Tornado experts like Ashley have warned of increased hazard exposure in the area due to people building more.

“You mix a particularly socio-economically vulnerable landscape with a fast, long-lasting nighttime tornado, and disaster will strike,” Ashley said in an email.


This story fixes the number of power outages in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.


Emily Wagster Pettus, writer at Associated Press, in Rolling Fork, Mississippi; Michael Goldberg in Silver City, Mississippi; Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri; Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Wash.; Robert Jablon in Los Angeles; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; and Jackie Quinn in Washington, DC contributed to this report.


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