At least 23 killed, dozens injured as tornado rips through rural Mississippi
ROLLING FORK, Mississippi – Emergency officials in Mississippi said 23 people were killed by tornadoes that tore through the state Friday night, destroying buildings and knocking out power as severe weather moved golf ball-sized hail through several states. south
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency confirmed 23 deaths as of 6:20 a.m. Saturday with many injuries and four people missing across the state. The agency said in a Twitter post that search and rescue teams from many local and state agencies were deployed along with personnel to assist those affected by the tornadoes.
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado caused damage about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork reported destruction as the tornado swept northeast at 70 mph (113 kph) without weakening, racing toward Alabama through towns including Winona and Amory at night.
The National Weather Service issued a warning as the storm hit that didn’t mention words: “To protect your life, TAKE A COVER NOW!”
“You’re in a life-threatening situation,” he said. “Flying debris can be fatal to those caught without shelter. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Major damage to homes, businesses and vehicles is likely and total destruction is possible.”
Cornel Knight told the Associated Press that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were at a relative’s house in Rolling Fork when the tornado hit. He said the sky was dark but “you could see the direction from every transformer that blew.”
— AccuWeather (@accuweather) March 25, 2023
He said it was a “silent kidnapping” as it happened. Knight said he watched from a doorway until he thought the tornado was less than a mile away. Then he told everyone in the house to take cover in a hall. He said the tornado hit another relative’s house across a wide cornfield from where he was. A wall fell in that house and several people were trapped inside. As Knight spoke to AP by phone, he said he could see lights from emergency vehicles at the partially collapsed home.
Rolling Fork mayor Eldridge Walker told WLBT-TV that he was unable to get out of his damaged home soon after the tornado hit because power lines were down. He said emergency responders were trying to take injured people to hospitals. He did not immediately know how many people were injured.
Former Rolling Fork mayor Fred Miller told the TV station that a tornado blew the windows out of the back of his house.
Storm trooper Reed Timmer announced on Twitter that Rolling Fork was in immediate need of emergency personnel and was taking the town’s injured residents to a Vicksburg hospital.
Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork was damaged, WAPT reported.
— Reed Timmer, PhD (@ReedTimmerAccu) March 25, 2023
The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork reported a gas leak and people trapped in piles of rubble, according to the Vicksburg News. According to the newspaper, several law enforcement units were unaccounted for in Sharkey.
Rolling Fork and the surrounding area have vast expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. Emergency officials opened more than half a dozen shelters in the state.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves in a Twitter post Friday night said search and rescue teams were active and officials were sending more ambulances and emergency assets to those affected.
“Many in MS Delta need your prayers and God’s protection tonight,” the post said. “Watch weather reports and be careful at night, Mississippi!”
This was a supercell, the worst type of storm that spawned the deadliest and most damaging tornado in the United States, said Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. In addition, the main thing is that this is a wet night, “the worst kind,” he said.
Meteorologists saw a high tornado risk coming to the general region, not the specific area, as much as a week in advance, said Ashley, who was discussing it with his colleagues as early as March 17. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center posted. long-range warning for the area on March 19, he said.
Tornado experts like Ashley have warned of increased risk exposure in the region due to people building more.
“You combine a socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-night tornado, and disaster is bound to happen,” Ashley said in an email.
Earlier Friday, a car was swept away and two passengers drowned in southwest Missouri during heavy rains that were part of a severe weather system. Authorities said six young adults in the vehicle were swept away as the car tried to cross a bridge over a flooded creek in the town of Grovespring.
Four of the six made it out of the water. The body of Devon Holt, 20, of Grovespring, was found at 3:30 a.m., and the body of Alexander Roman-Ranelli, 19, of Springfield, was found about six hours later, Missouri State Highway Patrol Patrol Sgt. said Tomás Óg.
The driver told authorities that the rain made it difficult to see that the bridge was covered by water from a pond, Young said.
Meanwhile, the search continued in another southwest Missouri county for a woman missing after flash flooding from a small river washed a car off the road. The Logan Rogersville Fire Protection District said there was no sign of the woman. Two other people in the car were rescued. Crews planned to use boats and searchers to walk along the riverbank.
When a woman’s SUV was swept up in seasonal flood waters Friday morning near Granby, Missouri, Layton Hoyer waded through icy cold waters to rescue her.
Parts of southern Missouri saw nearly 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain Thursday night and Friday morning as severe weather hit other areas. A suspected tornado touched down early Friday in north Texas.
Matt Elliott, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said severe weather was expected across several states.
The Storm Prediction Center warned that the greatest threat of tornadoes would come in parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Storms with damaging winds and hail were forecast from eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma to parts of southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois.
More than 49,000 customers lost power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee Friday night, according to poweroutage.us.
In Texas, a suspected tornado touched down around 5 a.m. in the southwest corner of Wise County, damaging homes and downing trees and power lines, said Cody Powell, the county’s emergency management coordinator. Powell said no injuries were reported.
The weather service did not confirm a tornado, but damage to homes was also reported in nearby Parker County, meteorologist Matt Stalley said.