At least 26 dead after tornado-spawning storms roll through Southeast. One town is ‘gone,’ mayor says
By Aya Elamroussi, Joe Sutton, Rebekah Riess, Sharif Paget, Mallika Kallingal and Alaa Elassar, CNN
At least 26 people were killed and dozens injured after powerful storms and at least one tornado pummeled the Southeast on Friday night, ripping roofs off homes, nearly leveling some neighborhoods and knocking out power for thousands, officials said.
President Joe Biden spoke with officials after the deadly tornadoes and said he is “praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and for those whose loved ones are missing.”
Biden also pledged to “focus our federal support where it is needed most quickly,” in the statement.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has issued a State of Emergency in all counties affected by the severe storms, according to a release.
“I’m devastated by the destruction and loss of life that these storms have caused,” Reeves said. He promised the state of Mississippi would do everything to send resources to those in need and help them rebuild.
And Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a tweet his department will “provide support to the impacted communities” in Mississippi through FEMA.
Mayorkas will tour the deadly storm damage in northeast Mississippi Sunday, US Sen. Roger Wicker said during a Saturday news conference.
“We look forward to having the Secretary of Homeland Security and the director of FEMA in to the state tomorrow,” Wicker said. “We’re going to show them as much as we have time to see.”
Mayorkas has also spoken to Reeves, Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Rep. Bennie Thompson about the storm response.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever. Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends,” Reeves tweeted.
Wicker joined Reeves in a damage tour in the town of Amory, where local police said damage at the city’s water plant is prompting a boil water advisory.
Early Saturday, Reeves spoke by phone with Biden and sent an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration in four counties. “The president assured me that as soon as he got it, he would sign it,” said Reeves.
“We have numerous local and state search and rescue teams that continue to work this morning. A number of assets are on the ground to assist those that have been impacted,” the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.
Rolling Fork mayor says the ‘city is gone’
Search-and-rescue efforts for storm victims began after a confirmed tornado struck the towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork, the latter of which was described by one resident as obliterated.
The overnight tornado that flattened much of the community of Rolling Fork was rated at a strength of EF-4, according to a member of the National Weather Service team surveying the damage. Meteorologist Bill Parker told CNN they have estimated the town saw maximum winds of 170 miles per hour.
“It seemed like forever until that noise stopped,” Rolling Fork vice mayor LaDonna Sias told CNN. Sias said her house was demolished. “You could hear people screaming from the neighborhood,” said Sias.
Truck driver Ernest Hall was called to the home where his children and grandmother were staying.
“They were trapped up under the trailer,” Hall said. “There were three of us. We had to fight, fight and get them out.”
Hall’s family members survived, but he saw many residents who didn’t. “So many bodies last night I seen,” said Hall.
Rolling Fork, Mississippi, a town of fewer than 2,000 residents who live under the constant threat of flooding, was claimed by the Blues singer Muddy Waters as his hometown.
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker says his “city is gone.”
“Devastation, as I’d looked from left to right, that’s all I see,” the mayor told CNN on Saturday morning. He and his wife hid in their bathtub when they received the warning and a moment later the storm hit, he said. “Just that fast.”
“Rescue efforts are happening as we speak,” the mayor said, adding several victims trapped in their homes have been located and rescued.
Many buildings and houses in the city were leveled by the storm, according to Walker. “There are some structures that have been left — some are not as damaged as others,” he said.
“My advice to people, one, to be thankful that they’re alive. Houses that are torn up can be replaced, but we can’t replace a life,” said Walker. “My advice to them is to stand still and wait on the first responders to take care of them as we journey down this situation together.”
“We’re going to come back strong,” he added.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Brandy Showah told CNN. “This was a very great small town, and now it’s gone.”
One resident said she and several others ran for cover inside a freezer the moment the tornado hit.
“This box is our freezer … this is what saved our lives,” Tracy Harden, owner of Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork said.
And Jeremy McCoy, the constable of Yazoo County, who went to neighboring Rolling Fork to assist with tornado damage, said the town now “looks like a landfill.”
At least 13 deaths were recorded roughly 60 miles northwest of Jackson in hard-hit Sharkey County, home to Rolling Fork, according to county coroner Angelia Easton.
Increasing death toll
Three others were killed and at least two people are in critical condition in Humphreys County, emergency management director Royce Steed told CNN early Saturday morning.
In Carroll County, three people died in one home, coroner Mark Stiles told CNN, adding it appears they were killed in a tornado. Additionally, two people were killed in Monroe County in northeastern Mississippi, coroner Alan Gurley said.
The tornado damaged homes and buildings, gutted trees and tore down power lines in the area, Showah told CNN.
Showah’s grandmother’s home suffered roof damage and its air conditioners were ripped out, Showah said, but her grandmother is safe. Most of the trees in her grandmother’s yard have been downed, including one her grandfather planted 50 years ago.
“My friend was trapped in her home a few houses down, but we got her out,” Showah said, adding there are still people who live next to her grandmother trapped in their homes. She said all the power in her grandmother’s area has been knocked out.
The severe storms cut a ruinous path across the region, trapping people in their homes and knocking out power in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.
A Morgan County, Alabama, man was killed after being trapped inside his mobile home Friday night, according to Brandy Davis with Morgan County Emergency Management.
Downed trees and storm debris litter and blocked roads. Homes and buildings were nearly leveled, with household appliances, furniture and clothes lying where the walls or roofs of homes once stood, videos from the scene show.
The same “large and destructive” tornado was also confirmed near the community of Coila, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a tornado emergency — the most dangerous type of tornado warning — in Rolling Fork, Silver City and nearby Anguilla.
There have been at least 11 tornado reports across Mississippi and Alabama over the last 24 hours, according to the Storm Prediction Center. These reports include the storm that impacted Rolling Fork, Silver City and Winona in Mississippi.
Power knocked out across parts of 3 states
In response to the desolation in Mississippi, the state has activated its medical support efforts, including additional ambulances and other emergency resources for those affected by the onslaught of deadly storms, Reeves tweeted late Friday.
“Search and rescue is active,” Reeves wrote. “Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight.”
Tornadoes or severe storms occurring at night have the greatest potential to be dangerous because people are less likely to be notified in time if they’re asleep.
The storms knocked out power to more than 83,000 homes and businesses across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee by early Saturday morning, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us. Power remained out to about 25,000 customers by Saturday evening.
In Morgan County, Alabama, storm debris stretched for about a mile, according to a tweet from the county’s sheriff’s office.
First responders rescued seven people who were trapped at a group home as trees and power lines collapsed on homes, the sheriff’s office said. The agency also responded to an overturned trailer and an overturned camper with persons trapped inside.
South braces for weekend of storms
More than 20 million are at risk of severe storms across much of the South and portions of the Midwest on Sunday. The main threats will be damaging winds, hail, and isolated tornadoes as the storm pushes off the East Coast by Saturday evening.
A Level 3 of 5 risk for severe storms has been issued across portions of eastern Louisiana, south-central Mississippi, and south-central Alabama.
Multiple rounds of storms are possible throughout the day on Sunday. The first round of severe storms is likely to be ongoing across portions of Alabama and Georgia Sunday morning, bringing with it the threat of large hail. These storms will then push east into the Carolinas by Sunday afternoon posing a threat of damaging winds.
Additional storms are expected to form across portions of eastern Texas on Sunday afternoon and are forecast to push into Louisiana, Mississippi, and eventually Alabama through the afternoon and evening.
A Level 1 of 5 threat includes Rolling Fork and Silver City, Mississippi, which were greatly damaged by a tornado Friday night.
Flooding could also pose a threat across portions of the South as an additional 2 to 4 inches of rain is possible through Sunday.
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CNN’s Devon Sayers, Isabel Rosales, Jaide Timm-Garcia, Melissa Alonso, Sharif Paget, Melissa Alonso, Keith Allen, Taylor Ward and Haley Brink contributed to this report.