At least 23 people were killed, dozens of others injured and four remained missing after powerful tornadoes ripped through the United States on Friday night, leaving a trail of destruction in its path, officials said.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency warned on Saturday that more casualties could come as it coordinates with multiple local and state search and rescue teams combing through rubble across the state, reported the New York Post.
Thirteen victims were confirmed dead in Sharkey County after the town of Rolling Fork — about 135km north of Mississippi’s state capital of Jackson — appeared to take the worst hit, coroner Angelia Easton confirmed to CNN.
“What we found was devastation all around us,” Mayor Eldridge Walker said.
“Our city is gone”.
At least one person was killed in Silver City in neighbouring Humphreys County, the local sheriff’s office told local TV station WJTV.
In Yazoo County, two children were taken to Baptist Yazoo hospital in critical condition after becoming trapped in a home.
In the town of Amory, WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan got so emotional while tracking the tornado that he turned to prayer on the air.
“We got a new scan here as we speak, “he said. “Oh, man! Like north side of Amory, this is coming in.”
He then put his head down while exhaling as said, “Oh, man! Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen.”
The deadliest tornado touched down around 9pm before sweeping northeast at 113km/h without weakening as it crossed into Alabama.
Mayor Walker from Rolling Fork said there were numerous injuries reported around the town and responders were working to get those people to hospitals, although the number of people injured remained unclear.
The Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork was damaged, WAPT reported.
The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork confirmed reports of gas leaks and people trapped in piles of rubble, according to The Vicksburg News.
Some law enforcement units were also unaccounted for in the county, according to the newspaper.
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in the area. In addition to destructive winds, the deadly storm produced golf ball-sized hail.
“You are in a life-threatening situation,” the weather service warned when the storm was closing in.
“Flying debris may be deadly to those caught without shelter. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Considerable damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles is likely and complete destruction is possible.”
Cornel Knight told The Associated Press he was at a relative’s house in Rolling Fork as he watched the “eerily quiet” tornado approach the home from about one kilometre away.
He told everyone in the house to take cover in a hallway.
Mr Knight said the tornado struck another relative’s home across a wide corn field from where he was, causing a wall to collapse trapping several people inside.
Rolling Fork is surrounded by an expanse of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds.
More than a half-dozen shelters were opened in the state by emergency officials.
Storm chaser Reed Timmer tweeted that the town was in immediate need of emergency personnel and that he was heading with injured residents of the town to a Vicksburg Hospital.
Over 80,000 customers were without power in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee as of Saturday morning, according to poweroutage.us.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said on social media that the state was sending additional emergency crews to the area.
“At least twenty three Mississippians were killed by last night’s violent tornadoes,” the governor tweeted early Saturday. “We know that many more are injured. Search and rescue teams are still active.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever. Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends.”
Earlier on Friday, two passengers were killed when a car was swept away and two in southwestern Missouri during torrential rains that were part of a severe weather system.
Four of the six people who were in the car at the time made it out of the water.
In another southwestern Missouri county, the search continued for a woman who was missing after flash flooding from a small river washed her car off the road.
Two others who were in the car were rescued.
This story appeared in the New York Post and is reproduced with permission.