At least 23 people were killed and dozens more injured after a deadly tornado ripped 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 numerous local and state search and rescue teams that continue to work this morning,” the agency said in an update posted to Twitter. “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change,” the agency added.
As dawn broke, emergency workers were only just beginning to survey the damage. Just under 100,000 electricity customers in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were still without power early Saturday, with some of the worst-hit counties nearly completely knocked out, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi noted the death toll and asked for prayers.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever,” he wrote on Twitter.
Three of the dead were from Carroll County, Miss., according to Mark Stiles, the local coroner.
“We are still doing search and recoveries. We are trying to cut trees to get into where people are living,” Mr. Stiles said.
The center of the destruction appeared to be roughly 60 miles away in the town of Rolling Fork in Sharkey County, Miss. The tornado blew out windows and damaged homes and trees, Fred Miller, a former mayor of the town, said on Friday.
“A great deal of the town has been destroyed,” including all the businesses on a commercial and retail stretch of a local road, Mr. Miller said in an interview on Fox Weather.
Aaron Rigsby, a videographer and storm chaser who filmed the tornado, said in an interview that he had watched it develop from a “small cone” into a “massive wedge.”
After the tornado hit Rolling Fork, Mr. Rigsby said, he went door to door through the town, rescuing people who were trapped in their vehicles or in destroyed homes, including a woman who had been buried by rubble.
“The town took a direct hit,” he said, adding that it had taken ambulances at least 30 minutes to arrive in Rolling Fork because the area is so rural.
Rolling Fork is a Mississippi Delta town of about 2,000 people in Sharkey County. It was the birthplace of the blues singer Muddy Waters and sits between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Its residents live with the risk of flooding should the backwater levees along the Yazoo fail.
About 30 percent of the residences in Sharkey County are mobile homes or housing other than homes or apartments, according to a 2021 survey by the federal Census Bureau. A fifth of the residents of Rolling Fork, which is predominantly Black, are under 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 that the power in the building was off.
In addition to Rolling Fork, the tornado also caused damage in Silver City, Miss., the National Weather Service office in Jackson said on Twitter.
The Weather Service had issued rare tornado emergencies for parts of the state Friday night, indicating a life-threatening situation, along with tornado warnings in parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee that later expired. The agency’s forecast for Saturday called for rain across those three states, with only a slight risk of further tornadoes.
Malary White, the chief communications officer for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said on Friday night state search-and-rescue resources were being sent to Sharkey County. She said that the agency was assessing the needs of people affected by the tornado and would begin to survey the damage in the daylight, adding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been alerted.
Severe weather season in the South reaches its peak during March, April and May, meteorologists said. Earlier this month, powerful storms swept across the South, leaving at least 12 people dead and hundreds of thousands of customers without electricity. Heavy rain, severe winds and tornadoes damaged homes in at least eight states.
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