(NewsNation) — A powerful tornado cut a devastating path of at least 170 miles through the Deep South on Friday night, killing 26 people in Mississippi and Alabama and obliterating buildings in its wake.
Along with the more than two dozen deaths, even more people are injured and four are missing after tornadoes in the area, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said on Twitter Saturday morning.
“Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change,” the agency wrote.
Reuters reports that destruction from tornadoes left buildings in rubble, cars turned over on their sides, and people climbing through debris in darkness.
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado caused damage about 60 miles northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. Rural towns Rolling Fork and Silver City reported destruction as the storm, which has received a preliminary EF-4 rating, swept northeast at 70 mph without weakening, racing toward Alabama through towns including Winona and Amory.
Preliminary information based on estimates from storm reports and radar data indicate that the tornado was on the ground for more than an hour, said Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Jackson, Mississippi, office.
On Friday, NewsNation local affiliate WJTV reported that Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker said a lot of homes, his own included, were damaged because of severe weather. People were trapped in their homes, and crews were working to get them out, he added. The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork also said there were people trapped in piles of rubble, as well as gas leaks.
“What we found was devastation all around us,” Walker said on WJTV.
Poweroutage.us showed tens of thousands of people in Mississippi, Alabama and neighboring Tennessee without electricity as of noon Saturday.
What blew through Mississippi was a supercell, which is a storm that brews the deadliest tornadoes and most damaging hail in the United States, according to Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. A nighttime supercell, Ashley added, is “the worst kind.”
“Numerous” local and state search-and-rescue teams are on the ground to assist people, MEMA said.
“We cannot say thank you enough to the amount of people helping our state right now,” MEMA said. “Mississippi is resilient and we will get through this.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said Saturday that he was on his way to Sharkey County “to be with the people hit first.”
“Devastating damage — as everyone knows,” Reeves said. “This is a tragedy.”
He declared a state of emergency for all Mississippi counties feeling the storms’ impact, and vowed to help rebuild as he headed to view the damage in an area speckled with catfish farming ponds and wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields. Reeves said he had received assurances from President Joe Biden that FEMA assistance is on the way.
Biden vowed in a statement that “the full force” of his administration would be behind the recovery efforts, and that FEMA Director Deanne Criswell would be in Mississippi on Sunday. Biden described the damage as “heartbreaking.”
“We will marshal every available resource on behalf of our neighbors in need,” the governor said.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., after touring Rolling Fork and Silver City Friday night, said he plans to support a federal disaster declaration for affected communities.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell has already deployed emergency response personnel and resources to Mississippi, President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“To those impacted by these devastating storms, and to the first responders and emergency personnel working to help their fellow Americans: We will do everything we can to help,” Biden said. “We will be there as long as it takes. We will work together to deliver the support you need to recover.”
Right now, Volunteer Mississippi is asking private citizens not to “self-deploy” to the area, but people can donate water or resources to the Rolling Fork Civic Center.
MEMA announced the following shelters are open:
- Old Amory National Guard Building
101 S 9th St.
Amory, MS 38821
- National Guard Armory
19719 US 61
Rolling Fork, MS 39159
Locations are subject to change.
The Associated Press, NewsNation local affiliate WJTV and Reuters contributed to this report.