Dozens Killed as Tornado Destroys Rural Towns in Its Path

Mississippi Highway Patrol via Twitter via Reuters
Mississippi Highway Patrol via Twitter via Reuters

Twenty four people have died and dozens have been injured after a tornado swept through Mississippi and into Alabama Friday evening. Mississippi’s Silver City and Rolling Fork saw widespread destruction after the tornado moved through the towns at 70 miles per hour late Friday evening before reaching the Alabama towns of Winona and Armory hours later.

President Biden said Saturday afternoon he has been in touch with Mississippi state officials since the disaster. “We will be there as long as it takes,” Biden said, according to the New York Times. “We will work together to deliver the support you need to recover.”

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Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) issued a state of emergency Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the initial destruction. As a result, all state agencies now have a directive to “discharge emergency responsibilities,” according to Reeves’ declaration. Meanwhile, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) tweeted Saturday morning that he will be supporting a federal disaster declaration in order to secure further aid for affected residents.

The National Weather Service said they are deploying crews to northeast Mississippi for a “complex survey” of tornado damage, the Times reports.

Rolling Fork’s mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN Saturday morning that the town had been obliterated.

“My city is gone. But we are resilient and we are going to come back strong,” Walker said.

On social media, people with loved ones in Rolling Fork shared the news that relatives had died in the storm.

Nikitha Chaney told The Daily Beast two of her cousins, Phyllis Maxey and Nikki Moore, passed away when the tornado ripped through their mobile home park. The women lived down the road from each another in the development that sat behind a local restaurant, Chuck’s Dairy Bar, which was also destroyed.

“Both of them were sweethearts. We just wasn’t prepared for this at all,” Chaney said. Moore was a mother and grandmother who was about to turn 41 and helped care for a parent with dementia. “She was very sweet and loving and just like the life of the party,” Chaney said. She described Maxey as the comedian of the family but someone who'd faced tragedy before: both her son and her mother died in recent years.

Chaney said that Rolling Fork’s trailer park lacked storm shelters or other protections. “Those people down there, they don’t have cars,” Chaney said. “Everything is walking distance. They don’t have taxis, none of that. Even in these small cities, they need things for emergencies.”

State officials have also confirmed four individuals are still missing. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency tweeted Saturday morning at that the number of reported deaths and injuries are likely to change in coming hours.

Authorities in Morgan County, AL, said a man who was partially stuck in mud when a trailer overturned did not survive his injuries.

Beyond those directly impacted by the disaster, roughly 100,000 are without power across Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, The New York Times reported.

One local WAPT reporter’s video of the devastation showed overturned cars and trees and homes reduced to piles of rubble. On Seventh Street, a semi-trailer truck smashed into one home, killing two people. “Words can’t express what I’m feeling. I’m just broken,” said one man at the scene who broke down as he said he lost both his parents, Lonnie and Melissa Pierce. “I just wish I had spent a little more time with them … I still got to tell my son that they’re gone.”

“I was told that they passed away in each other’s arms,” he said through tears.

Video shows severe wreckage in Rolling Fork, including many destroyed structures and vehicles in the wake of the tornado.

Bobby Morgan, who lives in Yazoo City, drove to Rolling Fork with four friends after work on Friday night to help authorities search through the wreckage. When they arrived around midnight, deputies informed them four children were missing. But by the time Morgan’s group left three or four hours later, the kids still hadn’t been found.

He estimates hundreds of other volunteers were on scene at the time. He said the mobile homes were obliterated and the frames upon which they were built looked like horse shoes, and the covered bodies of victims were in the street.

“We started looking for people in the debris,” Morgan told The Daily Beast. “It was probably 10 to 15 casualties I saw last night. Buildings ripped in half, vehicles all over the place. I’ve never seen anything like that.

“Pray for Rolling Fork. Pray for Silver City.”

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