At least 26 killed as powerful tornado tears through Mississippi

Rolling Fork, Miss. — An ominous wedge appeared in the night sky over one of the poorest parts of the American South late Friday. When it touched down, it nearly obliterated the small Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork in one of many scenes of devastation and heartbreak across parts of Mississippi and Alabama. At least 26 people were killed, dozens were injured, and homes and businesses were smashed to pieces.

In Rolling Fork, a town of about 2,000 people near the Mississippi’s western border, what was lost began to come into view at dawn.

Decades of standing trees were uprooted and all, and the tornado tore down houses and vehicles, tearing most everything to shreds. A fire station was in the open. Rooms were cut off in houses.

In other parts of the city, the force of the storm was so powerful that it turned piles of debris unrecognizable to residents who had lived there for decades. Roads were littered with downed utility lines, wooden legs, metal strips and rows of trucks and vehicles, crowded with outsiders — law enforcement agencies, volunteers and others.

Rolling Fork resident Mike Barlow was watching the local weather channel Friday evening when a meteorologist warned viewers to take shelter immediately. National Weather Service Confident At 8:05 PM a tornado was moving towards the city

“I thought, ‘This is not good,'” said Mr. Barlow, who had just enough time to put on pants and boots and tell his wife, Kathy, to get off the phone and get her purse before the tornado destroyed their home.

“It roared, and the next thing you know, the roof came off,” he said Saturday as he loaded what he could salvage into the back of his pickup truck. As he scanned his surroundings, what was now the flat farmland of the Delta, Mr. Barlow said, “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through.”

As the violent weather system neared Amory, a small town near the Alabama border, TV news meteorologist Matt Laban broke through his live analysis of what the radar was showing. “Oh man,” he dropped his right elbow on a table and put his hand to his lips. “Dear Jesus, please help them.”

As residents assessed the losses, President Biden said in a statement that he was pledging federal support for the region, promising that “we’ll be there as long as it takes.” Dean Criswell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is expected to travel to Mississippi on Sunday.

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“We’re going to fight like hell to make sure we get as many resources as possible,” said Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who toured Rolling Fork, Silver City and Winona on Saturday and called for a swift disaster declaration for the region. to this area as possible”

Meteorologists were still working to determine the size of the storms and “whether it was one big, long tornado that did all the damage, or if it just tossed out” and then dropped another one, National Weather Service meteorologist Janay Elkins said.

Patients at Sharkey Issaquan Community Hospital, a hospital serving Rolling Fork and other rural Delta communities, were transferred to other hospitals in the area as neighboring counties sent ambulances and paramedics to help.

Aaron Rigsby, a videographer and storm chaser Filmed the hurricaneIn an interview he said he saw it evolve from a “tiny cone” to a “massive wedge”.

After the tornado hit Rolling Fork, Mr. Rigsby said he went door-to-door through the city, rescuing people trapped in their vehicles or destroyed homes, including a woman buried by rubble. He said it took at least 30 minutes for ambulances to arrive in the Rolling Fork area.

Annie Haynes remembers gripping the handle on her closet door Friday night as tightly as she could. Her ears throbbed from the pressure. Her house was shaking. After the windows were broken and the roof pierced, she could feel the wind swirling around her.

But in a few seconds the whirlwind flew away; It broke into her house, which she didn’t have insurance for, and broke her car’s windshield. But she knew others had suffered much worse. All she had to do was look across the street.

Her neighbor’s health care worker, who lived alone in a mobile home, was found dead early Saturday morning, she said, after the storm lifted the house off the ground and slammed into a neighbor’s house.

“I don’t even want to look there,” said Ms. Haynes, 64, a preschool teacher. “I cried more for these other people than I cried for myself.”

Storm Chaser, Johnny B. Capel recalls pulling a family from the rubble of a flattened house, aided only by the light of a telephone flashlight.

“They were all in complete shock,” said Mr. Capel said, adding, “A girl wanted to take her. That’s all she wanted. She wanted to be arrested.

Soon, Mr. Capel, 35, went to a nearby Dollar General store and began digging through the rubble with his bare hands. There he found two bodies lying six feet apart in the darkness.

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The tornado also caused damage in Silver City, Miss., about 30 miles east of Rolling Fork, the National Weather Service office in Jackson. He said on Twitter. Officials said the Mississippi deaths were in Sharkey, Carroll, Humphreys and Monroe counties.

“We are still conducting search and rescue operations,” said Mark Stiles, the local coroner’s office. “We’re trying to cut trees to get to where people live.”

Rolling Fork is the birthplace of blues singer Muddy Waters and lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Its residents, most of them black, live with the risk of flooding from backwaters on the Yazoo; About one-fifth of residents are below the federal poverty line.

“Cleaning up, rebuilding, trying to get back in business can be a real problem,” said Fred Miller, a former mayor of Rolling Fork who has lived in the city for three decades. “In a small community like ours, somebody might throw up their hands and say, ‘I can’t.’ Those are things we have to wait for.

Set on the east bank of the Mississippi River, the Delta – a vast, pancake-flat and fertile landscape – is almost synonymous with poverty, pain and the brutal burdens of American history. It has been an unusually prolific contributor to American popular culture, producing musicians such as Waters, B.B. King and Charlie Bright, and writers including Walker Percy and Donna Dart.

But the legacy of slavery and racism in the heart of Mississippi’s old cotton kingdom continues into modern times. The region experienced population loss in the early 20th century as large numbers of black people moved north to escape the oppression of the Jim Crow era. The mechanization of agriculture also contributed, and today, those who remain face a lack of opportunities to earn a decent living.

The region, like the state of Mississippi at large, has had trouble maintaining an adequate health care system. The hospital in Rolling Fork, like others in the region, has struggled to stay in business in recent years.

But Dr. LuAnn Woodward, the top official at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, said the state has learned many lessons about how to respond to major disasters since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Dr. Woodward said crews from the medical center were able to send “scene check” teams to the affected areas Friday night, which helped transfer the injured to hospitals across the state. By early Saturday, 18 patients had been sent to the medical center in Jackson, he said.

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Despite its struggles, Mississippi’s Delta region prides itself on its neighborly spirit. On Saturday, hundreds of volunteers came from surrounding counties to lend a hand to Rolling Fork. Nurses treated the injured. Farmers used their tractors to move trees, cars and heavy garbage. Others brought grills, set up around town and cooked hamburgers.

Everyone asked the same questions: “What can we do? What do you want?”

In Morgan County, Alabama, south of Huntsville, emergency crews and law enforcement officials were searching for some of the wreckage. The district collector’s office shared the photos Twitter Rescuers helped free a man stuck in the mud after the trailer overturned, but he later said he did not survive his injuries.

Brandy Davis, director of Morgan County Emergency Management, said Alabama has so far reported only one fatality.

Severe weather in the south peaks in March, April and May. Meteorologists said. Earlier this month, powerful storms swept across the region, killing at least 12 people and leaving hundreds of thousands of customers without power and damaging homes in at least eight states.

According to the National Weather Service, much of the South could face severe hail on Sunday Storm Prediction Center.

Nighttime tornadoes are twice as dangerous as daytime tornadoes. Experts have said. At night, people are usually asleep and slow to respond to warnings, and it is difficult to see a tornado coming in the dark.

In Rolling Fork, many residents said what shocked them most was how quickly the storm appeared and then left the once quaint farm town.

Damian Caddison said the only warning was the darkening sky and howling wind, which forced him into the closet of his mobile home. His home was badly damaged and he and his girlfriend were preparing to camp in their car on Saturday.

“We need help – I’m talking about help,” said Mr. said Caddison, sitting in the back seat of his car and struggling to convey the gravity of his city’s situation. Tears streamed down his face.

“We didn’t have much, but we held on to what we had,” he said.

Sarah Kramer Ospen Report from Rolling Fork, Miss.; Emily Cochrane From Nashville; And Richard Fawcett From Atlanta. Reporting contributed Mike Ives, Euan Ward, Victoria Kim, Jesus Jimenez And Judson Jones. Kitty Bennet Research contributed.

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