Rescuers combed through rubble on Saturday (March 25) after a powerful storm tore across Mississippi overnight, killing at least 25 people there and another person in Alabama, leveling hundreds of buildings and spawning at least one devastating tornado.
The tornado stayed on the ground for about an hour and cut a path of destruction some 170 miles (274 km) long, according to Nicholas Price, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi.
Video taken in the town of Rolling Fork, a town of 1,700 in western Mississippi that was hit hardest, showed homes reduced to rubble, tree trunks snapped like twigs and cars that had been tossed aside. The town’s water tower lay twisted on the ground.
In Silver City, a town of around 300, residents described locking themselves in interior rooms and cowering inside bathtubs as the tornado swept through.
Governor Tate Reeves, who visited Silver City on Saturday, declared a state of emergency in the affected areas.
“The scale of the damage and loss is evident everywhere affected today,” he wrote on Twitter. “Homes, businesses … entire communities.”
In Alabama, which was also struck by the same storm system, rescuers pulled a man from the mud when his trailer was overturned, but the man died from his injuries, according to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. That appeared to be the only reported death in that state as of Saturday afternoon.
U.S. President Joe Biden described the images from Mississippi as “heartbreaking” and said in a statement that he had spoken with Reeves and offered his condolences and full federal support for the recovery.
Mississippi officials set up three emergency shelters, including at the National Guard Armory in Rolling Fork. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Deanne Criswell will travel to Mississippi on Sunday, the White House said.
About 26,000 customers remained without power as of Saturday evening in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee due to the storm, according to the website PowerOutage.us.
Mississippi‘s emergency management agency said on Saturday afternoon that the death toll had risen to 25, with dozens more injured. Four people who had been reported missing earlier have been located, the agency said.
At least 12 of those deaths occurred in Rolling Fork, its mayor, Eldridge Walker, told CNN earlier in the day.