At least 23 people were killed and dozens more injured after a deadly tornado tore through rural Mississippi on Friday night, leveling homes and sending emergency services scrambling to rescue people trapped in the destruction.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said that in addition to the 23 dead, dozens of people were injured and at least four people were also missing.
“We have many local and state search and rescue teams continuing to work this morning,” the agency said in an update posted on Twitter. “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change,” the agency added.
As dawn broke, rescuers were just beginning to assess the damage. Nearly 100,000 electricity customers in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were still without power early Saturday morning, with some of the worst-hit counties almost completely out, according to the tracking website powerutage.us.
Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi noted the death toll and asked for prayers.
“The loss will be felt in these cities forever,” he tweeted.
According to Mark Stiles, the local coroner, three of the dead were from Carroll County, Miss.
“We are still doing search and recovery.” We are trying to cut down trees to get to where people live,” Mr Stiles said.
The center of destruction appeared to be about 60 miles away in the town of Rolling Fork in Sharkey County, Miss. The tornado blew out windows and damaged homes and trees, former mayor Fred Miller said Friday.
“Much of the town was destroyed,” including all the businesses on the commercial and retail stretch of the local road, Mr. Miller said in an interview with Fox Weather.
Aaron Rigsby, a cameraman and storm chaser who filmed the tornado, said in an interview that he watched it develop from a “little cone” into a “massive wedge.”
After the tornado hit Rolling Fork, Mr. Rigsby said, he went door-to-door rescuing people who were trapped in their vehicles or in destroyed homes, including a woman who was buried by the debris.
“The town took a direct hit,” he said, adding that it took at least 30 minutes for ambulances to get to Rolling Fork because the area is so rural.
Rolling Fork is a Mississippi Delta town of about 2,000 residents in Sharkey County. It was the birthplace of blues singer Muddy Waters and lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Its residents are at risk of flooding if levees along the Yazoo fail.
According to a 2021 federal Census Bureau survey, about 30 percent of residences in Sharkey County are mobile homes or non-home or apartment living. A fifth of Rolling Fork’s residents, who are predominantly black, live below the federal poverty line.
Many of the power outages in Mississippi early Saturday were in Sharkey and Montgomery counties. An officer who answered the phone at the Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork said the power in the building was out.
In addition to Rolling Fork, the tornado also caused damage in Silver City, Missouri, the National Weather Service office in Jackson said on Twitter.
The weather service issued a rare tornado watch for parts of the state Friday night, indicating a life-threatening situation, along with tornado warnings for parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee that later expired. The agency’s forecast for Saturday called for rain in those three states, with only a slight risk of more tornadoes.
Maláry White, chief communications officer for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said Friday evening that state search and rescue resources had been dispatched to Sharkey County. She said the agency is assessing the needs of people affected by the tornado and will begin assessing damage during daylight hours, adding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been alerted.
The severe weather season in the south peaks during March, April and May, meteorologists said. Strong storms swept through the South earlier this month, leaving at least 12 dead and hundreds of thousands of customers without power. Heavy rain, strong winds and tornadoes destroyed homes in at least eight states.