“Everybody knows, the damage is catastrophic. It’s a tragedy,” the governor said.
Powerful tornadoes ripped through parts of the southeastern United States late Friday, killing 23 people in Mississippi, flattening dozens of buildings and causing particular devastation in a rural town whose mayor declared “my town is gone.”
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency tweeted early Saturday morning that 23 people were dead, four were missing and dozens were injured across the state. Search and rescue teams from several state and local agencies are assisting hurricane victims, the agency added.
The agency warned that the number of victims could rise, tweeting: “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted Saturday that he is moving to Sharkey County, whose Rolling Folk county offices were demolished. “Everybody knows, catastrophic damage. It’s a tragedy.”
The U.S. National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado caused damage about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork reported extensive damage from the tornado, which was moving steadily toward Alabama at 70 mph (113 km/h) through Winona, Amory and other towns.
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN his city was almost leveled. A video recorded in the early hours of the morning showed houses in ruins, cars and uprooted trees without branches. From time to time, among the ruins, an apparently intact house was seen.
“My people have disappeared, but we are resisting and we are going to come back stronger,” he said.
As the storm blew in, the National Weather Service issued a warning Friday night that didn’t mince words: “To protect your life, be careful now!”
“Your life is in danger,” he warned. “Flying debris can be dangerous for those caught without shelter. Many mobile homes will be destroyed. Homes, businesses and vehicles can cause severe damage and total destruction is possible.
Colonel Knight told The Associated Press that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were staying with relatives in Rolling Fork when the tornado hit. The sky was dark, he described, but “you could see the direction of each transformer exploding.”
He pointed out that everything was “completely quiet” when it happened. Knight said he stood in the driveway until the tornado was about a mile away. He then told everyone in the apartment to take shelter in a hallway.
He opined that the tornado had hit another relative’s house on the other side of a large cornfield from where they were. The wall of the apartment collapsed and many were trapped. Speaking by phone with The Associated Press, Knight said he could see the lights of emergency vehicles at the partially collapsed home.
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