At least 24 people were killed, dozens injured and four missing after powerful storms and at least one tornado pummelled Mississippi, USA on Friday night, ripping roofs off homes, nearly leveling some neighbourhoods and knocking out power for thousands, officials said.
The greater storm system is pushing east on Saturday morning.
US President Joe Biden spoke with officials after the deadly tornadoes, and said he’s “praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and for those whose loved ones are missing.”
Biden also pledged to “focus our federal support where it is needed most quickly,” in the statement.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has issued a State of Emergency in all counties affected by the severe storms, according to a release.
“I’m devastated by the destruction and loss of life that these storms have caused,” Reeves said.
He promised that the state of Mississippi would do everything to send resources to those in need and help them rebuild.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a tweet that his department will “provide support to the impacted communities” in Mississippi through FEMA.
Mayorkas has spoken to Reeves, Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith and Rep. Bennie Thompson about the storm response.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever. Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends,” Reeves tweeted.
“We have numerous local and state search and rescue teams that continue to work this morning. A number of assets are on the ground to assist those that have been impacted,” the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.
Search-and-rescue efforts for storm victims began after a confirmed tornado struck the towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork, the latter of which was described by one resident as obliterated.
Rolling Fork, Mississippi, a town of fewer than 2,000 residents who live under the constant threat of flooding, was claimed by the Blues singer Muddy Waters as his hometown.
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker says his “city is gone.”
“Rescue efforts are happening as we speak,” the mayor told CNN on Saturday morning.
The tornado was moving at 80km/h when it was located over the town just after 8pm CT (12pm Saturday AEDT), the National Weather Service said.
Many buildings and houses in the city were leveled by the storm, according to Walker. “There are some structures that have been left – some are not as damaged as others,” he said.
“We’re going to come back strong. Houses that are torn up can be replaced,” said Walker, who urged residents to stay in place as rescue teams continue to canvas the area.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Brandy Showah told CNN. “This was a very great small town, and now it’s gone.”
At least 13 deaths were recorded roughly 96 kilometres northwest of Jackson in hard-hit Sharkey County, home to Rolling Fork, according to county coroner Angelia Easton.
Three others were killed and at least two people are in critical condition in Humphreys County, emergency management director Royce Steed told CNN early on Saturday morning.
In Carroll County, three people died in one home, coroner Mark Stiles told CNN, adding that it appears they were killed in a tornado.
Additionally, two people were killed in Monroe County in northeastern Mississippi, coroner Alan Gurley said.
The tornado damaged homes and buildings, gutted trees and tore down power lines in the area, Showah told CNN.
Showah’s grandmother’s home suffered roof damage and its air conditioners were ripped out, Showah said, but her grandmother is safe.
Most of the trees in her grandmother’s yard have been downed, including one that her grandfather planted 50 years ago.
“My friend was trapped in her home a few houses down, but we got her out,” Showah said, adding that there are still people who live next to her grandmother trapped in their homes.
She said all the power in her grandmother’s area has been knocked out.
The severe storms cut a ruinous path across the region, trapping people in their homes and knocking out power in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Downed trees and storm debris litter and blocked roads.
Homes and buildings were nearly leveled, with household appliances, furniture and clothes lying where the walls or roofs of homes once stood, videos from the scene show.
The same “large and destructive” tornado was also confirmed near the community of Coila, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a tornado emergency – the most dangerous type of tornado warning – in Rolling Fork, Silver City and nearby Anguilla.
There have been at least 11 tornado reports across Mississippi and Alabama over the last 24 hours, according to the Storm Prediction Centre. These reports include the storm that impacted Rolling Fork, Silver City and Winona in Mississippi.
It’s still unclear whether the destruction is the result of one long-tracked tornado or multiple tornadoes.
Power knocked out across parts of three states
In response to the desolation in Mississippi, the state has activated its medical support efforts, including additional ambulances and other emergency resources for those affected by the onslaught of deadly storms, Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted late on Friday.
“Search and rescue is active,” Reeves wrote. “Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight.”
Tornadoes or severe storms that occur at night have the greatest potential to be dangerous because people are less likely to be notified in time if they’re asleep.
The threat of storms persisted overnight for certain areas across northern Alabama and middle Tennessee, which faced tornado watches and warnings early Saturday.
The storms knocked out power for more than 83,000 homes and businesses across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee as of 8.50am ET (11.50pm AEDT), with more than 47,000 outages reported in Tennessee alone, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us.
In Morgan County, Alabama, storm debris stretched for about a mile, according to a tweet from the county’s sheriff’s office.
First responders rescued seven people who were trapped at a group home as trees and power lines collapsed on homes, the sheriff’s office said. The agency also responded to an overturned trailer and an overturned camper with persons trapped inside.
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South braces for weekend of storms
The main threats Saturday will be damaging winds and isolated tornadoes as the storm pushes off the East Coast by the evening.
On Sunday, a Level 2 out of 5 risk is in place across portions of the South for another round of severe storms that will bring damaging winds, isolated tornadoes, and severe hail to the area.
The areas impacted will include Montgomery in Alabama, Jackson in Mississippi, and Columbus and Macon in Georgia.
Flooding could also pose a threat across portions of the South as an additional 50mm – 100mm of rain is possible through Sunday.
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Last modified: February 17, 2023