Mississippi tornado: ‘Mile-wide’ tornado kills at least 26 in US South

An aerial view of the aftermath of a tornado in Rolling Fork, Mississippi (SevereStudios.com/Jordan Hall/via Reuters)
An aerial view of the aftermath of a tornado in Rolling Fork, Mississippi (SevereStudios.com/Jordan Hall/via Reuters)

At least 26 people have been killed after tornadoes tore through parts of the US South overnight, according to emergency officials.

A number of towns appeared to have taken direct hits in Mississippi and Alabama, and people remained trapped under rubble on Saturday morning.

The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork, Mississippi were hit by a reportedly “mile-wide”, 70mph tornado along with Winona and Amory in Alabama. The massive supercell storm also brought hail the size of golf balls.

Watch: Towns devastated after tornadoes tear across south

15:02 , Louise Boyle

‘People are trapped'

15:28 , Sheila Flynn

People were still trapped on Saturday morning in the town of Rolling Rock, Mississippi, near the Louisiana border, former mayor Fred Miller told FOX Weather.

“The west part of Rolling Fork is a residential area, and just a number of houses over there have been completely destroyed,” Mr Miller said. “Highway 61, where most of our businesses are, all of the businesses on 61 have been completely destroyed. People are trapped in a couple of the eateries, and people are trying to get them out now.”

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeted on Saturday that he had “just completed” a command briefing with “our disaster response team.”

‘Devastating damage -- as everyone knows,” he tweeted. “I am on my way to Sharkey County to be with the people first hit. We are blessed with brave, capable responders and loving neighbors. Please continue to pray.”

First tornado-related death recorded in Alabama

15:42 , Sheila Flynn

An Alabama man has been killed after being trapped inside his mobile home during the Friday night tornadoes, CNN reported.

A spokesperson for the Morgan County emergency department confirmed the death and told the outlet it was unclear whether one powerful tornado or two separate storms devastated the area.

The death toll currently stands at 24, with the Morgan County fatality the only recorded so far in Alabama.

15:57 , Sheila Flynn

Stormchaser and multimedia journalist Jordan Hall tweeted devastating footage on Saturday morning of the tornado aftermath in Rolling Fork in Mississippi’s Sharkey County.

About 30 percent of county residences are mobile homes or housing other than homes or apartments, according to a 2021 survey by the federal Census Bureau, The New York Times reports; a fifth of the residents in the town, which is predominantly Black, are under the federal poverty line, it adds.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on Saturday morning posted an update confirming “dozens injured, 4 missing due to last night’s tornadoes.

“We have numerous local and state search and state rescue teams that continue to work this morning. A number of assets are on the ground to assist those that have been impacted.”

About 30 percent of the residences in Sharkey County are mobile homes or housing other than homes or apartments, according to a 2021 survey by the federal Census Bureau. A fifth of the residents of Rolling Fork, which is predominantly Black, are under the federal poverty line.

Citizens asked not to ‘self-deploy'

16:32 , Sheila Flynn

Mississippi authorities were asking residents on Saturday not to “self-deploy” as the governor and official teams were heading to the sites of devastation throughout the state to assess damage.

“Volunteer Mississippi is asking private citizens not to self-deploy,” the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency tweeted. “They will work to match unaffiliated volunteers with affiliated groups on the ground when the time is right. If you would like to donate water or resources the Rolling Fork Civic Center is open to receive them.”

Deaths have been confirmed so far in Sharkey, Carroll, Monroe and Humphreys counties in Mississippi.

Dozens were injured as teams worked Saturday to locate the missing and numbers of fatalities were expected to rise, state authorities said.

“Our neighbors in Mississippi were devastatingly impacted by last night’s storms,” tweeted Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Saturday morning. At least one fatality has been confirmed in her state.

She added that she’d connected with Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to offer her “heartfelt condolences for the lives lost and to offer our support. Alabamians stand with Mississippi!”

‘Eerily quiet’ accompanied storm

16:49 , Sheila Flynn

Cornel Knight told The Associated Press that he and his wife were with their three-year-old daughter at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork, Mississippi when the tornado struck.

He said the sky was dark but “you could see the direction from every transformer that blew,” AP reported; it was “eerily quiet” as that happened. Mr Knight watched from a doorway until the tornado was, he estimated, less than a mile away, then told everyone in the house to take cover in a hallway, he said

He said the tornado struck another relative’s home across a wide corn field from where he was located. A wall in that home collapsed and trapped several people inside.

Rolling Fork mayor Eldridge Walker said power lines were down following the tornado and he was unable to get out of his damaged home. Mr Walker said emergency responders were trying to take the injured to the hospital, which was also damaged, according to WAPT

Tens of thousands of people were without power early Saturday in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama, according to utility tracker Poweroutage.us.

Mississippi governor declares state of emergency

17:00 , Sheila Flynn

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has issued a State of Emergency in all counties affected by the “severe thunderstorms spawning high straight-line winds and tornadoes resulting in the loss of life and extensive property damage.”

He was traveling to hard-hit Sharkey County, where the town of Rolling Fork was essentially wiped out, as were aid and recovery teams and the executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MSEMA).

The National Weather Service also tweeted Saturday that it was “sending out three survey teams today to assess damage across north AL and southern middle TN after last night’s storms. The survey results will be shared as teams complete their assessments later today.”

MSEMA has also announced several emergency locations offering food and shelter for displaced residents, including the National Guard Armory in Rolling Fork and Old Amory National Guard Building in Alabama.

Mississippi meteorologist and governor ask for prayers

17:17 , Sheila Flynn

Both a Mississippi meteorologist and the state’s governor asked for prayers amid the devastating weekend storm that wove a 100-mile fatal path.

Matt Laubhan, chief meteorologist for local network WTVA, was presenting live as the tornadoes were developing, telling viewers that, as much as they ‘trust him’, he wasn’t sure how the storm would pan out.

“Argh man, dear Jesus please help them, amen”, he prayed, as updates of the tornado’s movements came in.

“I tell you where it goes and some of you are like ‘that’s where it’s going to go,’ but the reality is this could be changing directions.”

On Saturday, as the breadth of destruction became apparent and at least 23 were confirmed dead, Governor Tate Reeves tweeted: “The loss will be felt in these towns forever.

“Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends.”

FEMA administrator addresses tornadoes

17:33 , Sheila Flynn

The head of FEMA on Saturday posted that the agency had been in touch with the governor of Mississippi regarding the devastation throughout the state following the brutal storm.

“I just spoke to @tatereeves about the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and how @FEMA can help the communities impacted,” Deanne Criswell tweeted. “Our thoughts are with the people of Mississippi who are dealing with this terrible trauma.”

One Mississippi woman, Wonder Bolden, was holding her granddaughter as she spoke to AP while standing outside the remnants of her mother’s now-leveled mobile home in Rolling Forkon Saturday.

“There’s nothing left,” the 44-year-old hospice worker told AP, looking out at the car that had landed on top of a diner that used to be 60 feet away from her driveway. “There’s just the breeze that’s running, going through -- just nothing.”

She said the family had spent the morning digging through debris, searching for coins her mother had stowed away, and her belongings of her father, who passed away around 25 years ago -- but hadn’t been able to come up with much.

Rolling Fork is in Sharkey County, which has been particularly hard hit. The sheriff’s office reported gas leaks and trapped residents, while some law enforcement units were also unaccounted for, the Vicksburg News reported.

President Biden offers sympathy, support to Mississippi

17:55 , Sheila Flynn

President Joe Biden on Saturday offered his support and sympathy for the Southern residents affected by this weekend’s devastating tornadoes.

At least 23 people were killed, dozens injured and more missing throughout Mississippi as crews worked to assess the damage and death toll; one death had been reported Saturday in Alabama. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency tweeted Saturday morning: “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change.”

“Jill and I are praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and those whose loved ones are missing,” President Biden tweeted, adding that he’d spoken with Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves as well as other state representatives “to express my condolences and offer full federal support.”

Governor Reeves declared a state of emergency for the areas affected, with Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe and Sharkey counties all reporting deaths.

“I just spoke with President Biden about the deadly tornados we faced overnight. He assured us FEMA would be there to support our response,” the governor tweeted Saturday. “The flood of support from governors, businesses, charities, and federal admin has been tremendous—matches the community here on the ground.”

Tornado Mississippi’s deadliest in more than a decade

18:41 , Sheila Flynn

The Mississippi tornado was the state’s deadliest in more than a decade and possibly more than half a century, according to local reports.

At least 23 people have been confirmed dead throughout the state, and that number was expected to rise, authorities said Saturday -- making it “at least the deadliest tornado to hit Mississippi since 2011, and potentially the deadliest in more than 50 years,” the Clarion Ledger reports.

President Biden tweeted that he’d spoken with FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, who he said “has already deployed emergency response personnel and resources to support search-and-rescue and assess the damage.”

“We will do everything we can to help,” he tweeted. “We will work together to deliver the support you need to recover, for as long as it takes.”

Tornado touched down for more than an hour

19:41 , Sheila Flynn

Preliminary information based on estimates from storm reports and radar data indicate the tornado was on the ground for more than an hour and traveled at least 170 miles, a National Weather Service meteorologist told The Associated Press.

Lance Perilloux, who works for the NWS in Mississippi, made the comments as officials continued to survey the damage on the ground. Entire sections of towns were wiped out; in hard-hit Rolling Fork, trees were stripped of their branches and cars were flipped on their sides on Saturday -- while the occasional home could be soon still upright and undamaged, AP reported.

One town resident, Sheddrick Bell sheltered in a closet with his partner and two daughters for 15 minutes as the tornado barreled through, he told AP -- his partner praying loudly as his children cried nonstop.

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

Debris traveled 100 miles with tornado

19:53 , Sheila Flynn

Debris from the fatal Mississippi tornadoes appears to have travelled more than 100 miles away, according to reports.

Musician Andrew Bryant tweeted a photo of a check from Rolling Fork on Saturday that he said was found in a relative’s yard more than 100 miles away.

“My cousin found this in her yard in Big Creek, MS. 133 miles from Rolling Fork,” he wrote, before tweeting a cartoon picturing two people hugging amidst debris with the words “Prayers for Mississippi.”

The Mississippi Department of Transportation continued to report significant amounts of debris blocking roads, the Clarion Ledger reported on Saturday.

Animal shelters ‘severely damaged'

20:13 , Sheila Flynn

Animal shelters were among the structures devastated during this weekend’s tornadoes, though one Mississippi woman assisting relief efforts in Rolling Fork described a happy discovery.

“The animal shelter was hit, but three dogs survived,” she told the Clarion Ledger. “I don’t know how. To find a live dog was unbelievable. It’s just unreal.”

The Amore Humane Society was severely damaged in the storm (Facebook/Amory Humane Society)
The Amore Humane Society was severely damaged in the storm (Facebook/Amory Humane Society)

Nearly 200 miles away in Amory, residents were also appealing for help for the local humane society, which was “severely damaged,” one volunteer told The Independent on Saturday.

The shelter posted numbers for volunteers that pet owners could call to help locate missing animals.

Mississippi submits ‘major disaster declaration'

20:29 , Sheila Flynn

The Mississippi governor on Saturday confirmed the state has submitted its “major disaster declaration” as he toured devastated areas.

“The scale of the damage and loss is evident everywhere affected today,” Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted. “Homes, businesses ... entire communities. Respond, Recover, Rebuild together. That is the mission.”

He also posted photos of recovery efforts already underway.

“The courage and resilience of the people of Silver City was on full display,” he tweeted. “Emergency operators are working to respond, and we will be there for the recovery and rebuilding as we get beyond today. Pure strength and will in the face of heartbreaking loss.”

Continuing severe weather across US leaves hundreds of thousands without power

20:41 , Sheila Flynn

Strong winds and power outages were plaguing states further north and east of the states affected by the Friday night tornadoes.

More than 125,000 Ohio customer were without power on Saturday afternoon, reported WCMH. More than 50,000 remained without power in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, while nearly 60,000 West Virginians and 36,000 Pennsylvania residents lost electricity, according to PowerOutage.us.

Parts of far eastern Louisiana, souther/central Mississippi and southern/central Alabama remained under “an enhanced risk of severe thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service.

Mississippi authorities, meanwhile, were offering safety advice for residents recovering after the storm, including a boil water notice, chainsaw and generator safety tips and reminders to avoid downed power lines. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency also posted a tweet urging caution when walking through debris as upturned nails present a danger.

Death toll rises to 26

20:52 , Sheila Flynn

Mississippi officials announced Saturday afternoon that the number of fatalities in the state had risen by two following the devastating tornadoes that touched down overnight.

“At this time the death toll has risen to 25 and dozens of others are injured,” the Mississippi Emergency Magement Agency said in an update. “The fatalities are reported in Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll, and Monroe counties. Four people reported missing overnight have now been accounted for.”

Another storm-related death was confirmed across the border in Alabama.

Multiple state agencies and partners continued to work on response and recovery efforts in both states.

Alabama braces for more storms

21:23 , Sheila Flynn

Alabama was bracing on Saturday evening for more severe weather after tornadoes overnight tornadoes killed at least one person in the state and 25 more in neighboring Mississippi.

“We have a complex forecast over the next 36 hours as multiple rounds of potentially severe thunderstorms are possible late tonight through late Sunday night,” the National Weather Service’s Birmingham office tweeted. “The overall threat is highest across the southern half of Central Alabama.

“The main threat will be large hail, with the tornado threat being relatively lower. Damaging winds and flooding will also be possible.”

The state’s only reported storm-related death overnight occurred in Morgan County, in the north of the state, where cleanup efforts continued on Saturday.

‘The worst damage I’ve ever seen'

21:37 , Sheila Flynn

The spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has called the devastation in her state “some of the worst damage I’ve ever seen.”

Malary White, MEMA’s public information officer, tweeted photos of the damage on Saturday; the agency updated its death toll within the state to 25.

“This is by far some of the worst damage I’ve ever seen,” Ms White wrote. “Help is here and more is on the way.”

National Weather Service crews were on the ground to assess the damage, and recovery efforts were underway in towns where entire swathes were destroyed.

Fewer than 7,000 people remained without power in Mississippi by Saturday evening, though hundreds of thousands in states including Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

In Ohio, the number without power had risen above 400,000, according to PowerOutage.us.