First responders rushed Saturday to search for survivors and help hundreds of people who lost their homes after a powerful tornado wreaked destruction in Mississippi, killing at least 25 people, injuring dozens and flattening blocks in its path of devastation for more from one hour. One person lost their life in Alabama.
The tornado devastated a swath of the Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping over vehicles and toppling a water tower. Residents took shelter in bathtubs and hallways during the storm Friday night, then stormed into a John Deere store, turning it into a triage center for the injured.
“There’s nothing left,” said Wonder Bolden, holding her granddaughter, Journey, as she stood in front of the remains of her mother’s trailer in Rolling Fork. “There is only the breeze that blows, that passes between things… just nothing”.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced in a tweet Saturday afternoon that the death toll had risen to 25 and dozens of people were injured. Four missing people have already been found.
In other parts of the southern United States, residents were clearing debris apparently caused by other tornadoes. A man has died in Morgan County, Alabama, the police department there said in a tweet.
Throughout Saturday, disoriented and distraught survivors hacked their way with chainsaws through rubble and fallen trees in search of missing people. There were downed power lines under decades-old oak trees that were ripped out of the ground.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency and vowed to help rebuild as he went to survey the damage in an area with large cotton, corn and soybean fields, as well as catfish farms. President Joe Biden also promised federal assistance, calling the damage “heartbreaking.”
The devastation in the Rolling Fork was so widespread that several storm chasers — who chase tornadoes and often live stream dramatic images of funnel clouds — requested help with search and rescue efforts. Others abandoned storm chasing to transport injured people to hospitals.
But the community hospital in the western part of the city was damaged, so it was necessary to transfer patients to other parts. The tornado also destroyed a cotton warehouse and uprooted the steeple of a Baptist church.
Sheddrick Bell, his partner and their two daughters huddled in a closet for 15 minutes at their Rolling Fork home as the tornado struck. The windows were breaking while her daughters cried and her partner prayed.
“I was just thinking, ‘If I can still open my eyes and move, I’m fine,’” he said.
Rodney Porter, who lives about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Rolling Fork and works for a local fire department, said he didn’t understand how there were any survivors as he delivered water and fuel to families in the area.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” he said, noting that there were houses on top of other houses. Several crews interrupted the gas supply to the town to guarantee the safety of the inhabitants and first responders.
The National Weather Service had issued a direct and clear warning: “To protect your life, take cover now!”