(Rolling Fork) A powerful tornado tore through rural Mississippi and neighboring Alabama on Friday night in the United States, killing at least 23 people, a toll that is set to rise.
The tornado destroyed buildings and caused power outages, while the weather event also dropped hail the size of golf balls. Several southern states had issued alerts to warn people in its path of a “life-threatening situation.”
Mississippi authorities confirmed in a Twitter post that search and rescue teams from local and state agencies have been deployed to assist victims affected by the tornadoes. Mississippi Emergency Management confirmed Saturday morning that 23 people were dead with four missing and dozens more injured.
“Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change,” the tweet read.
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado caused damage 96 miles northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork were destroyed as the tornado continued to sweep northeast at 70 mph without weakening. The tornado continued its course toward Alabama, passing through towns like Winona and Amory there overnight.
Sharkey County Coroner Angelia Easton told ABC News that 13 people were killed by the tornado in Mississippi.
The television news channel reported six more deaths early Saturday morning, including three in Carroll County, two in Monroe County and one in Humphreys County, citing county coroners and a Mississippi highway patrol officer. The Associated Press could not immediately confirm these deaths.
Cornel Knight told The Associated Press that he and his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were staying with a relative in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck. He said the sky was dark, but you could see the direction of each exploding transformer.
He said it was “strangely quiet” when it happened. Mr. Knight observed the phenomenon from a doorway until the tornado was, according to his estimate, less than a mile away. He advised everyone to take shelter.
The tornado struck another relative’s home near a cornfield, Knight said. A wall of the house collapsed and trapped several people inside. At the time of his testimony to the AP news agency by telephone, he could see the emergency vehicles arriving at the partially collapsed house.
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told WLBT-TV he was unable to get out of his damaged home shortly after the tornado because power lines fell. He said emergency responders were trying to get the injured to hospital, but he didn’t know how many people were injured.
A former Rolling Fork mayor, Fred Miller, also told the television station that the tornado blew out the back windows of his residence.
The Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital, located on the west side of the city, was damaged, according to television station WAPT.
The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork reported gas leaks and people trapped in rubble, according to the Vicksburg News.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said on Twitter late Friday that search and rescue teams were active and authorities were dispatching more ambulances and emergency resources to those affected.
“Many people in MS Delta need your prayers and God’s protection tonight,” his tweet read. Watch the weather reports and stay safe all night, Mississippi! »
“It was a supercell, the deadliest type of tornado and the most damaging hailstone in the United States,” said Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. What’s more, it was a wet night which is “the worst case scenario,” he claimed.
Meteorologists saw a big tornado risk coming for the region in general, but not for the region specifically, no more than a week in advance, said Ashley, who was discussing it with his colleagues as early as 17 March. The National Weather Service Severe Prediction Center had issued a long-range warning for the area on March 19, he said.
Experts like Mr. Ashley had warned of increased exposure to severe weather in the area as people build more.
Earlier Friday, a car was swept away and two passengers drowned in southwest Missouri during torrential rains that were part of a severe weather system. Authorities said six young adults were in the vehicle which was swept away as the car attempted to cross a bridge over a flooded creek in the town of Grovespring.
Four of the six were able to get out of the water. However, 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 approximately six hours later. said Sgt. Thomas Young of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Parts of southern Missouri saw nearly 8 centimeters of rain Thursday night and Friday morning as severe weather hit other areas. A suspected tornado touched down early Friday in northern Texas.
Matt Elliott, meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s warning coordination in Norman, Oklahoma, said severe weather was expected in several states.
More than 49,000 customers had lost power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee by Friday night, according to poweroutage.us.