Image by Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

By Ginny Cooper McCarley, Lauren WeberTimothy Bella and Justine McDaniel

ROLLING FORK, Miss. — An entire town, flattened. Injured people staggering out of what was left of their homes, impaled with debris. And no tornado siren to be heard.

That scene is what professional storm chaser Zachary Hall found driving into Rolling Fork, Miss., after a tornado roared through.

“There were people everywhere, too many to count,” Hall said. “We initially saw a group of seven or eight people with injuries.”

More than a dozen tornadoes reportedly tore through Mississippi and Alabama on Friday night, leaving at least 26 dead and aswath of devastation 100 miles wide as severe weather continues to threaten various parts of the United States.

There is utter destruction everywhere in Rolling Fork. Homes and businesses have been reduced to rubble. Mangled cars lay flipped. Massive trees were uprooted and tossed. It was all part of 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,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) wrote on Twitter. He later added “Devastating damage — as everyone knows. This is a tragedy.”

The tornadoes stretched from the Louisiana border of Mississippi through Alabama as part of a supercell, or rotating thunderstorm — a rare, extended path for such a storm. 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.

“People here are devastated,” said Leroy Smith Jr., a member of the Sharkey County Board of Supervisors. “Last night they had their houses. Today they don’t.”

Winds gusted up to 80 mph while sheets of rain and hail the size of golf balls pounded the region. 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.

The storm damaged sculptures of Teddy Roosevelt and his legendary bear in downtown Rolling Fork, Miss. Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center is forecasting an elevated risk of severe thunderstorms for Sunday 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 possible.”

Ricky Shivers is leading a group of coroners to identify the dead in Rolling Fork. Reached by phone in the temporary morgue facilities that went up around 2 a.m. Saturday morning, he detailed how the local hospital was forced to close as a result of the damage. Other parts of the town were “completely obliterated.”

He and his fellow coroners are waiting as the search and rescue teams comb through the area.

“It is very disturbing, for sure,” he said of the death toll.

Keivdra Walker was at home Friday night with her husband and four younger cousins in the Blue Front neighborhood of Rolling Fork. The roof fell in on her husband, and she was thrown into the hall by the force of the wind, she said.

They were trapped for about an hour while a live wire lay on top of and behind her house. They could hear other people screaming in their houses for help, she said.

The family is trying to see what they can salvage, although she said her daughter’s laptop and some clothes appear to have been stolen.

All the patients in the Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital were evacuated Friday night and early Saturday morning, said S. Jerry Keever, the hospital’s administrator and chief executive.

“I don’t know when I’m gonna sleep again,” Keever said, adding that he had been up through the night. Those patients were transferred to a temporary hospital in nearby Amory.


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