In Mississippi alone, at least 23 people have been killed, and many have been injured.
On Friday night, a strong tornado tore a destructive path through Mississippi that covered at least 274 kilometers, killing nearly 20 people and destroying dozens of buildings as it lingered on the ground for over an hour.
In the little Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork, the tornado destroyed entire blocks, turning homes into heaps of rubble, turning automobiles on their sides, and toppling the water tower.
People barricaded themselves inside bathtubs and stormed into a John Deere store, which they used as a triage facility for the injured.
The Mississippi Disaster Management Agency warned on Twitter on Saturday that the death toll could rise above the 23 confirmed dead and four missings, stating, “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change.”
While this was happening, other regions of the Deep South were cleaning up after damage from other possible tornadoes. The Morgan County, Alabama, sheriff’s office confirmed on Twitter that one other man passed away.
Wonder Bolden, holding her granddaughter Journey, stood in front of the remains of her mother’s now-leveled mobile home in Rolling Fork and declared, “There’s nothing there.”
“There is nothing but the breeze that is running through it.”
She and others combed through the wreckage and downed trees with chainsaws during the early hours of Saturday morning in search of survivors. Oak trees that were decades old had their roots uprooted and were pinned beneath power cables.
The devastation is “heartbreaking”
As he traveled to survey the devastation in a region dotted with vast stretches of cotton, corn, and soybean fields as well as catfish farming ponds, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency and pledged to assist in the reconstruction.
Moreover, American President Joseph Biden pledged federal assistance and called the destruction “heartbreaking.”
The extent of the damage in Rolling Fork prompted numerous storm chasers—those who track severe weather and frequently broadcast live streams of menacing funnel clouds—to request search-and-rescue assistance. Others gave up the pursuit to take those who were hurt to the hospital.
But, the fact that patients had to be transferred due to damage to the community hospital on the west side of town didn’t help.
For fifteen minutes, Sheddrick Bell, his partner, and their two daughters cowered in a closet of their Rolling Fork house. His daughters cried uncontrollably. He could hear his companion beside him loudly praying.
If I can still open my eyes and move around, I’m good, I was just thinking, he added.
While he supplied water and fuel to people there, Rodney Porter, a member of the local fire department who lives about 32 kilometers south of Rolling Fork, said he didn’t know how anyone survived.
Houses were piled on top of one another, as he described it, “it’s like a bomb went off.” To ensure the safety of locals and emergency responders, workers even cut the town’s gas lines.
Once the storm came, the U.S. National Weather Service issued a clear warning: “Take cover NOW to protect your life!”
“Everything needed was there”
According to preliminary evidence based on storm reports and radar data, the tornado lasted on the ground for more than an hour and traveled at least 274 kilometers, according to Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Jackson, Miss.
“That’s extremely, very rare,” he said, blaming the long journey on broad atmospheric instability. “All of the elements were present.”
Preliminary research, according to Perrilloux, indicates that the tornado’s line of destruction started just southwest of Rolling Fork, moved northeast toward the small towns of Midnight and Silver City, then moved toward Tchula, Black Hawk, and Winona.
Brian Squitieri, a severe storm forecaster from Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, claimed that the supercell that generated the deadly twister also looked to produce tornadoes that caused damage in the northwest and north-central Alabama.
First responders in Morgan County, in northern Alabama, saved a 67-year-old man who was trapped beneath a trailer that overturned during violent overnight storms, but he subsequently passed away in the hospital, according to AL.com.
The Storm Prediction Center is issuing a warning for the potential for hail, wind, and potentially a few tornadoes on Sunday in regions of Mississippi and Louisiana while survey teams attempt to determine how many tornadoes were impacted and how severe they were.
‘Almost total catastrophe’
Cornel Knight, his wife, and their three-year-old daughter were at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck, according to The Associated Press.
The sky was dark, but “every transformer that blew showed the direction.”
He claimed the tornado hit a relative’s house across a large cornfield from where he was. A wall fell in one house, trapping numerous individuals inside.
Royce Steed, the emergency manager for Humphreys County, which includes Silver City, compared the damage to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It’s practically utter devastation,” he said after teams finished scouring buildings and began assessing the damage. “I don’t know what the population of this little old town is, but it’s pretty much wiped off the map.”
In town, the roof of Noel Crook’s house, where he lives with his wife, had been ripped off.
“Yesterday was yesterday, and it’s gone – there’s nothing I can do,” Crook remarked. “Tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. You have no say in the matter, so here I am now.”
‘Lord Jesus, please assist them’
One Mississippi meteorologist paused to pray as the tornado approached the town of Amory, which is located approximately 40 kilometers southeast of Tupelo. The tornado appeared to be so violent on the radar.
On the live broadcast, WTVA’s Matt Laubhan stated, “Oh man.” “Please, Jesus, assist them. Amen.”
The town’s water is currently boiling, and a curfew is in place.
To provide housing for the displaced, more than a dozen shelters were opened in the state.
When he traveled to the area and collected supplies along the way, William Trueblood, emergency disaster services director for the Salvation Army’s Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi Division, said, “It’s a wonderful feeling to see the thankfulness on people’s faces to know they’re getting a hot dinner.”
He stated that according to reports, the extreme weather affected at least 19,000 residents.