A series of tornadoes that swept through Mississippi and Alabama on Friday night left at least 26 people dead and a trail of devastation 100 miles wide.
The storm hit Rolling Fork, Miss., particularly hard, with a long-track tornado tearing through the area and leaving buildings flattened and thousands without power.
One local official said that “the loss will be felt in these towns forever.”
President Biden called the damage “heartbreaking” and promised the full support of the federal government in the aftermath of the storm.
Recovery efforts are ongoing, with search and rescue teams deployed to the area, while the National Weather Service has warned of the potential for more severe weather across the region.
On March 25, 2023, a deadly tornado struck Mississippi, leaving a trail of destruction across the state. More than a dozen tornadoes were reported to have torn through Mississippi and Alabama on Friday night, leaving at least 26 people dead and a swath of devastation 100 miles wide.
The tornado struck Rolling Fork, Mississippi, a small town about an hour’s drive from Jackson. The National Weather Service reported that the tornado touched down around 8 p.m. local time, leaving the town flattened.
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker described the damage as “widespread” and stated that several residents had been found trapped in their homes and rushed to hospitals while emergency responders searched for more survivors.
The twister then traveled northeast, upending neighboring towns in Silver City and Winona. Black Hawk, a small town about 60 miles northeast of where the tornado made landfall, was also severely affected. Houses were destroyed, buildings collapsed, and trees across the town were splintered.
Photos shared by a local resident, Chris Alford, showed the devastation in Black Hawk. He said some residents were found trapped inside cars, and houses and cherished community landmarks, including a Baptist church and community center, were turned to ruins. “The area is just completely devastated,” he told NPR. “People are pulling together, but they need help.”
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency in the affected areas. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told Fox News on Saturday afternoon that she was working with Reeves to get a federal emergency disaster declaration request written “as quickly as possible.”
President Biden called the images from Mississippi “heartbreaking” and offered the full support of the federal government in the aftermath of the storm. He noted that FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell had already deployed emergency response personnel and resources to the state to assist with recovery efforts.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said on Saturday afternoon that 25 people had died and dozens were injured due to the tornadoes. Officials noted that local and state rescue teams had been deployed overnight, and resources were available for victims impacted by the destructive weather.
The tornadoes stretched from the Louisiana border of Mississippi through Alabama as part of a supercell, or rotating thunderstorm. The deadly devastation was amplified by the twisters’ ferocity, which crushed many of the area’s mobile homes, which are more vulnerable to destruction from strong winds. And the storm’s nocturnal path took residents by surprise as they slept.
“Winds gusted up to 80 mph while sheets of rain and hail the size of golf balls pounded the region,” reported The Washington Post. “Dozens are injured, and four missing people were accounted for by Saturday afternoon, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.”
Severe storms also rolled through parts of the Southeast and Ohio Valley on Saturday, downing trees and power lines. One tornado was reported in Barber in southern Alabama, near the border with Georgia, around 9 a.m. Saturday.
For Sunday, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center forecast an elevated risk of severe thunderstorms in a zone running from central Louisiana to southeast North Carolina, including southern Mississippi and Alabama. “Large hail to very large hail should be the main threat,” the center wrote. “Damaging winds and a few tornadoes also appear.”
The tornadoes were one of the deadliest tornado events in Mississippi’s history. Sharkey and Humphreys counties, both rural areas of the state that are predominantly Black, were the hardest hit, especially their towns of Rolling Fork and Silver City. “The loss will be felt in these towns forever,” Governor Reeves wrote on Twitter. “This is a tragedy.”