On Friday night, strong tornadoes ripped across sections of the Deep South, destroying hundreds of structures, killing at least 23 people in Mississippi, and leaving a particularly terrible impact on a tiny hamlet whose mayor exclaimed, “My city is gone.”
In a tweet, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced that teams of search and rescue volunteers from regional and state organizations had been sent to assist storm victims. Early on Saturday morning, the agency announced that 23 individuals had passed away, four were missing, and scores had been hurt.
A few minutes later, the organization tweeted: “Unfortunately, these statistics are expected to alter,” expressing concern that the death toll would rise.
On Saturday morning in Rolling Fork, Wonder Bolden was standing outside the remains of her mother’s now-leveled mobile home with her granddaughter, Journey.
The 44-year-old hospice worker stated, gazing out at the automobile that had crashed on top of a cafe that had once been 60 feet (18 meters) from her driveway, “There’s nothing left.” “There is nothing but the breeze that is running through it.”
She claimed that the family had spent the morning sifting through trash in search of coins that her mother had hidden and mementos of her late father, who had died about 25 years earlier. They hadn’t been able to think of many ideas.
Tate Reeves, the governor of Mississippi, tweeted on Saturday that he was going to the town and called what had happened “a tragedy.” Earlier, as ambulances sped to the scene and search and rescue crews got to work sorting through the rubble, he prayed for “God’s protection.”
Eldridge Walker, the mayor of Rolling Fork, told CNN that his village had practically been destroyed. Footage captured just before dawn saw automobiles on their sides, trees with no branches, and residences reduced to mounds of debris. Occasionally, a house might be spared and appear to be unharmed in the midst of the devastation.
My city has vanished. Nonetheless, he added, “We are strong and we will bounce back.”
The tornado damaged property 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service. When the tornado moved northeast at 70 mph (113 kph) without slowing down, racing toward Alabama past communities like Winona and Amory, into the night, the remote settlements of Rolling Fork and Silver City reported destruction.
As workers finished looking through buildings and shifted to evaluating damage, Royce Steed, the emergency manager in Humphreys County, where Silver City is situated, declared that “it is nearly completely destroyed.” This tiny, abandoned town is essentially gone off the map; I have no idea how many people live there.
He compared the destruction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the devastating Tuscaloosa-Birmingham disaster in 2011.
As the storm was approaching on Friday night, the National Weather Service issued a clear-cut warning: “To preserve your life, TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY!” The storm was deemed “life-threatening” in the warning, which also stated that mobile homes will be destroyed.
According to Cornel Knight, who spoke to The Associated Press, the tornado struck when he, his wife, and their 3-year-old daughter were at a relative’s house in Rolling Fork. Even though it was pitch-black outside, he claimed that “you could see the direction from every transformer that blew.”
He said that the ensuing silence was “eerily silent.” Knight claimed that he observed the tornado from a doorway until it was, in his estimation, less than a mile distant. He then instructed everyone within the home to seek refuge in a hallway.
He claimed that across a large cornfield from where he was, a different relative’s home was struck by the tornado. In the house, a wall gave way, trapping numerous occupants within. Knight told the AP over the phone that he could see the emergency cars’ lights at the half fallen house.
One Mississippi meteorologist paused to pray as the tornado approached the town of Amory, approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Tupelo, since it appeared to be so violent on radar.
WTVA’s Matt Laubhan said, “Oh man,” during the live broadcast. “Dear Lord, kindly assist them. Amen.”
The extent of the damage in Rolling Fork prompted some storm chasers—those who track severe weather and frequently broadcast livestreams of menacing funnel clouds—to request search and rescue assistance. Others gave up the pursuit to take the injured persons themselves to the hospitals.
According to WAPT, damage was done to the Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork.
According to the Vicksburg News, the Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office near Rolling Fork reported gas leaks and persons stuck behind debris fields. According to the newspaper, Sharkey was missing several law enforcement forces.
According to poweroutage.us, 20,000 people were without power in Alabama, 15,000 were in Mississippi, and 40,000 customers in Tennessee were without power.
Large swaths of cotton, corn, and soybean fields as well as catfish farming ponds may be seen in and around Rolling Fork. Emergency personnel in the state opened more than a dozen shelters.
This storm was a supercell, according to Walker Ashley, a professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University, which is the horrible kind of storm that produces the country’s worst tornadoes and most destructive hail. However, this one occurred at night, which he described as “the worst sort.”
According to Ashley, who was discussing it with his colleagues as early as March 17, meteorologists had predicted a significant tornado danger for the region as a whole rather than for the specific spot. On March 19, he said, the Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service issued a long-range advisory for the region.
Ashley and other tornado specialists have warned about a higher risk exposure in the area as a result of greater construction.
Ashley wrote in an email, “Disaster will ensue if you combine a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado with a very socioeconomically sensitive landscape.”