(Washington) At least 23 people were killed when a tornado passed through Mississippi, the governor of this southern US state said on Saturday, leaving behind a ravaged landscape.
“This is a tragedy,” Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted, citing “devastating damage” after the tornado swept through Mississippi more than 100 miles west to east Friday night.
And the toll could well get worse.
“Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change” upwards, the Mississippi State Emergency Services (MSEMA) said on Twitter. Search and rescue teams are on the job to find victims.
US President Joe Biden spoke in a statement of the “heartbreaking” images, and stressed that the federal state would do “whatever it can to help”, “as long as it takes”.
In Rolling Fork, a town of some 2,000 people in western Mississippi, footage Saturday morning showed entire rows of homes torn from their meager foundations, streets littered with debris and cars flipped onto their roofs. Two semi-trailers were also piled up on top of each other.
Trees were uprooted and pieces of metal wrapped around the trunks while for one house, still standing but wobbly, the floor collapsed.
“Almost everything has been swept away” in the city, Patricia Perkins, a 61-year-old resident, told AFP by telephone.
“Most of the shops were flattened” by the tornado, said this employee of a tool store.
Aaron Rigsby, a tornado hunter, describes arriving at the scene Friday evening and hearing “screams of people trapped in the rubble, calling for help.”
“There was a lady who failed to get to safety in time and was mowed down with the roof of her house falling on her,” he told AFP, also joined by phone.
“I managed to free her from the rubble” and seek help when she was injured in the leg, he adds.
Another lady found herself “stuck between her sofa, pieces of roofing, and a fridge,” he said, speaking of the “same scenes across the town.”
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker said on CNN, “My town doesn’t exist anymore.”
According to the city councilor, several victims were located and removed from the debris of their homes, to be taken to hospitals and treated.
“Houses that have been torn away can be replaced, but you cannot replace a life,” Eldridge Walker said.
“The losses will be felt in these cities forever,” Governor Tate Reeves tweeted, asking to pray for the victims and their families.
According to ABC, at least 13 people died in Sharkey County, along with three in neighboring Carroll County and two others in Monroe County.
Separately, a police officer in Silver City, Humphreys County, reported to ABC the death of one person.
In Alabama, a neighboring state of Mississippi, thunderstorms were also particularly intense and a man died after his trailer overturned, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office said.
The “priority at this point” is to “keep people alive and to locate people to verify that they are safe,” said Malory White of MSEMA.
Tornado warnings had been issued Friday in several counties in Mississippi.
As of 2:48 a.m. Saturday (3:48 a.m. EST), the National Weather Service (NWS) branch in Mississippi’s capital, Jackson, reported that “the tornado watch has been lifted throughout the area. concerned”.
“Further showers and more thunderstorms are expected in our area,” he tweeted, noting that “they shouldn’t be heavy based on the forecast.”
This meteorological phenomenon, as impressive as it is difficult to predict, is relatively common in the United States, especially in the center and south of the country.
By December 2021, about 80 people had lost their lives after tornadoes hit Kentucky.