A deadly tornado and strong thunderstorms swept across Mississippi late Friday, killing at least 23 people and leaving a path of destruction more than 100 miles long, local and federal officials said.
Mississippi’s Emergency Management Agency said search and rescue operations were underway in Sharkey and Humphreys counties. The agency issued a series of cyclone warnings for districts across the state.
“Many people in MS Delta need your prayers and God’s protection tonight,” said Governor Tate Reeves. Twitter. “We have activated medical assistance — providing more ambulances and other emergency assets for the victims. Search and rescue is active.”
President Joe Biden said Saturday that he is praying for those who lost loved ones in the hurricane.
“The images coming in from across Mississippi are heartbreaking. While we are still assessing the full extent of the damage, we know that many of our fellow Americans are not only grieving for family and friends, but they have also lost their homes and businesses,” Biden said. .
He continued, “To those affected by these devastating storms, to first responders and emergency workers helping their fellow Americans: We will do everything we can. We will stay as long as it takes. We will work. Together to provide the support you need to recover.”
Reeves declared a state of emergency in all counties affected by the severe storm.
“I am devastated by the destruction and loss of life these storms have caused,” Reeves said in a statement. “The state of Mississippi will do everything we can to marshal every available resource to support our fellow Mississippians in need. The state will be there to help them rebuild. We’re not going anywhere, we’re in it for the long haul. Please join me in praying for the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones during this difficult time.”
Dozens of injuries were reported, the state emergency agency said Twitter. Four people are reported missing.
According to state officials, the deaths were reported in Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll and Monroe counties.
Thirteen people died in Sharkey County, Coroner Angela Easton told ABC News. One person died in Silver City, Humphreys County, Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Jose Watson said.
A FEMA team is going to help the state. The Department of Homeland Security said it was providing assistance to Mississippi communities affected by the tornado.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the communities affected by the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi. I spoke with Governor @tatereeves, @SenatorWicker, @SenHydeSmith and Congressman @BennieGThompson. Through @FEMA, DHS will provide support to victims as we work together to respond and recover from this disaster.” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorgas said. Tweet.
A tornado was reported in the Silver City and Rolling Fork area around 8:50 p.m. local time, the National Weather Service said, as thunderstorms swept the state late Friday.
Rolling Fork was “pretty devastated,” United Cajun Fleet President Todd Terrell told ABC News.
From there, the tornado rolled over the northwest side of Tchula and along Highway 49, officials said.
A tornado emergency warning was issued for the city of Winona, about 100 miles northeast of Rolling Fork, as “a devastating tornado moves northeast through the city,” NWS officials said.
Edgar O’Neill, a storm chaser on the ground in Rolling Fork, said the tornado caused “complete and utter devastation.”
“Homes destroyed. Gas stations destroyed. Trees, power lines blocking entrances everywhere. Stray animals. People walking the streets clearly in shock. Lots of people on the ground helping,” O’Neal said in an interview on “GMA.”
Atmos Energy has cut gas lines in Rolling Fork for the safety of all residents and first responders, state officials said.
Jordan Hartshorne, Mississippi coordinator for the United Cajun Fleet, told ABC News the devastation in Rolling Fork was reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with most buildings damaged or destroyed, except for a few facilities on the outskirts of the city.
“It’s bad here,” Hartshorne said. “It’s literally destruction. Ground zero.”
He assisted in search and rescue operations, which led to the discovery of more bodies.
“I hate to say it — dead people left and right,” he said. “I’m from Mississippi, and on the lower end, hurricanes come and it’s like this. I mean, it looks like ground zero after Katrina.”
Several teams and the Mississippi State Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are in Rolling Fork, Amory and Monroe counties, state officials said.
State officials reported “significant damage” in Amory along highways 6 and 35.
“Crews from Monroe County are unable to get into Amory from the south, where their headquarters are located, due to several downed power lines across the road. Crews from Itawamba County are coming from the north to assess the damage in Smithville and cut something. Trees across the road on the way to Amory,” Mississippi State Emergency said. The Action Center said in a press release.
Watson urged people to stay away from Silver City unless they had family. He said the scene was “chaotic” and that traffic jams were making it difficult for rescue teams to carry out their work.
“Please be advised, Silver City was hit very hard by the tornado,” Watson said. A video It was posted on Facebook before describing the damage to some areas as “extremely devastating”.
Terrell said he based his description of the storm on information from 17 of the organization’s volunteers in Rolling Fork.
“I’d say it was in Joplin or worse,” he said, referring to the 2011 tornado that killed 161 people.
He said his team’s top priority was to help with rescue efforts, noting that “there are still a lot of people trapped in their homes.” He also flagged clean water and food as a significant concern.
“The adults seem to strike in the night, and they have no warning,” he said. “We know it’s going to be bad in areas, but nobody can prepare for this total disaster.”
ABC News’ Ahmed Hemingway contributed to this story.