- The tornadoes cut a path of more than 100 kilometres across Mississippi on Friday.
- Twenty-five people have been killed, dozens more injured, and four others reported missing have been found.
- According to monitor poweroutage.us, some 4 800 customers were without power in Mississippi.
At least 25 people were killed by devastating tornadoes that ripped across the southern US state of Mississippi, tearing off roofs, smashing cars and flattening entire neighbourhoods, with the region readying for more severe weather Sunday.
The powerful weather system, accompanied by thunderstorms and driving rain, cut a path of more than 100 miles (60 kilometres) across the state late Friday, slamming several towns.
Mississippi’s emergency management agency put the death toll at 2 and said dozens more were injured. Four people reported missing “have been found,” it added.
And in Alabama, one man died after being trapped when a trailer overturned in the severe weather, the sheriff’s office in Morgan County said on Twitter.
In Rolling Fork, home to fewer than 2 000 people, an entire row of houses and buildings was demolished, leaving only scattered debris. Cars were overturned, fences ripped up, and trees uprooted.
Some 4 800 customers were without power in Mississippi, and nearly 11 000 homes and businesses remained in the dark in neighbouring Alabama, monitor poweroutage.us reported.
Mississippi was meanwhile girding for more turbulent weather Sunday, including damaging winds and hail, with the state’s emergency management agency warning that “tornadoes cannot be ruled out.”
Patricia Perkins, who works at a hardware store in Rolling Fork, told AFP that “most everything is wiped away.”
Resident Shanta Howard told local TV how community members had to help remove the dead from the wreckage.
“It’s way worse than I thought. All of the businesses on Highway 61 are gone,” Ricky Cox, whose seed supply store was wrecked, told AFP, saying two friends died when their homes were hit.
“My city is gone,” Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN. “Devastation – as I look from left to right, that’s all I see.
“A lot of families are hurting. This community is in a situation that we never expected.
“Houses torn up can be replaced, but we can’t replace a life.”
Search and rescue operations were underway in Sharkey County, home to Rolling Fork — about 60 miles northwest of the state capital Jackson – and neighbouring counties.
The emergency management agency said fatalities also occurred in Humphreys, Carroll and Monroe counties.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever,” state Governor Tate Reeves said on Twitter. “Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends.”
At least twenty three Mississippians were killed by last night’s violent tornados. We know that many more are injured. Search and rescue teams are still active. The loss will be felt in these towns forever. Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends.
— Governor Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) March 25, 2023
President Joe Biden called the images from Mississippi “heartbreaking” and vowed to put federal resources at the state’s disposal.
“We will do everything we can to help. We will be there as long as it takes,” he said.
– ‘Constant cry’ for help –
Storm chaser Aaron Rigsby told AFP he arrived in Rolling Fork right after the storm hit, in the pouring rain and with “lightning still all around.”
“When I got there, it was just a constant cry of voices screaming for help from people trapped,” he said, adding he helped residents free a few people from their destroyed homes.
The National Weather Service issued a rare tornado emergency for Rolling Fork and surrounding areas at 21:00 Friday, warning people to seek shelter from life-threatening conditions and forecasting golf ball-sized hail.
The NWS warned residents that as clean-up operations continue, “dangers remain even after the storms move on.”
Malary White, a Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesperson, told CBS News affiliate WJTV that the “main priority right now, especially for the local first responders, is life safety and accounting for the people and ensuring they are safe.”
Tornadoes, a weather phenomenon notoriously difficult to predict, are relatively common in the United States, especially in the central and southern parts of the country.
In January, a series of damaging twisters, all on the same day, left several people dead in Alabama and Georgia.