World

Mississippi: Rescue efforts begin after tornado destruction

March 26, 2023
In Rolling Fork, crushed cars, bricks and glass litter the streets — the town has been almost entirely wiped out.
In Rolling Fork, crushed cars, bricks and glass litter the streets — the town has been almost entirely wiped out.

ROLLING FORK, Mississippi — Rescue efforts are under way in Mississippi and Alabama after a tornado tore through the two states on Friday night killing 26 people, including a baby and her father.

Emergency services will have to dig through the debris left behind by the tornado, which flattened one town and obliterated homes and businesses.

A state of emergency was declared in Mississippi on Sunday. President Joe Biden ordered federal assistance for the affected areas.

As Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff arrived in Mississippi to tour the damage, senator Roger Wicker tweeted: “Today recovery efforts across our state began in earnest”.

Friday’s tornado has been classified as “violent” and given a preliminary EF-4 rating — the second-highest rating possible.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for large sections of both Alabama and Georgia for Sunday, ending at 13:00 ET (18:00 BST).

In Rolling Fork, crushed cars, bricks and glass litter the streets — the town has been almost entirely wiped out.

One resident told the BBC he was lucky to survive after seeking shelter in his bath tub.

Approaching the neighborhood in western Sharkey County, there is little indication of anything unusual.

The lush farmland that surrounds it is completely untouched, the trees aren’t even bent out of shape by wind. Then, suddenly, you see the houses that were in the tornado’s path.

In this rural town of only 2,000 people, where one fifth of residents live below the poverty line, dozens of buildings have been flattened by the fury of the tornado.

Homes where family and friends had gathered less than 24 hours before, ready for the weekend, have been reduced to rubble.

Timber frames have been snapped into pieces. There are upturned washing machines, but it is impossible to identify anything that might have been a kitchen.

Amongst the rubble, there are vehicles that have been tossed around. There is the occasional children’s toy and other signs of the lives that were lived here just hours earlier.

The tornado hit in the middle of the night — people had been sleeping and had not heard the alerts. For many the first indication that something terrible was happening was the noise.

Francisco McKnight told the BBC it was a miracle that he is alive. The only warning he had was the sound, he said — he had never heard anything like the noise of the wind on Friday night and never wants to again.

He took one look outside and then ran into his bathroom and got into the bath tub. He said that was what saved him.

The only part of his home that is still standing are parts of two of the bathroom walls.

The tornado lasted just five to 10 minutes he said, and he sat in the tub as the rest of his home was ripped away. For now, he is staying in one of the shelters that have been set up in the area.

He does not know what he will do next, but he says somehow he will rebuild his life.

Mississippi state governor Tate Reeves visited Silver City and Winona on Saturday to meet affected residents who had been hit by the tornado’s fury.

Sharing an update on Twitter, Reeves described the situation as a “tragedy”, writing: “We are blessed with brave, capable responders and loving neighbors. Please continue to pray.”

Reeves requested an expedited disaster declaration for the region and said: “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure that we get as many resources to this area as possible.” — BBC


March 26, 2023
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