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At least 25 are dead after a rare, long-lasting tornado tore through Mississippi

A resident looks through piles of debris, insulation and home furnishings to see if anything is salvageable at a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Saturday.
Rogelio V. Solis
/
AP
A resident looks through piles of debris, insulation and home furnishings to see if anything is salvageable at a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Saturday.

Updated March 25, 2023 at 4:30 PM ET

A rare, long-track tornado left a trail of devastation across western Mississippi on Friday night — killing at least 25 people, tearing buildings and leaving thousands of homes without power. At least one person also died in storms in Alabama.

"This is a horrific event," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said during a news briefing. "It's heartbreaking. There's really no other way in which to describe it. It is absolutely heartbreaking."

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President Biden, who spoke to Reeves on Saturday, also called the images from Mississippi "heartbreaking" and offered the full support of the federal government in the aftermath of the storm.

"Jill and I are praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and for those whose loved ones are missing," he said.

Biden also noted that FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell had already deployed emergency response personnel and resources to the state to assist with recovery efforts.

"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," he added.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said on Saturday afternoon that 25 people had died and dozens were injured due to the tornadoes.

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Officials noted that local and state recues teams had been deployed overnight, and resources were available for victims impacted by the destructive weather.

In Alabama, the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency confirmed to NPR that at least one person in that state had died after a mobile home overturned during tornadoes.

The storm left a trail of devastation behind

A tornado landed in Rolling Fork, Miss., which is about an hour's drive from of Jackson, around 8 p.m. local time, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Lance Perrilloux.

Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN that his "city is gone."

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Walker, who has been surveying the wreckage in his town, said the damage and devastation is widespread. He added that several residents have been found trapped in their homes and rushed to hospitals while emergency responders search for more survivors.

"The rescue missions are still taking place as we speak," Walker said on Saturday morning.

The twister then traveled northeast, upending neighboring towns in Silver City and Winona. The severe weather also produced golf ball-size hail.

Devastation continued in Black Hawk, a small town about 60 miles northeast of where the tornado made landfall.

Houses were destroyed, buildings collapsed and trees across the town were splintered, according to photos shared by a local resident, Chris Alford.

Alford, who lives a few miles outside of Black Hawk and frequently spends time there, visited the area on Saturday to help assess the damage. He said some residents were found trapped inside cars and that houses and cherished community landmarks, including a Baptist church and community center, were turned into ruin.

"The area is just completely devastated," he told NPR. "People are pulling together, but they need help."

Reeves declared a state of emergency in the affected areas. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told FOX News on Saturday afternoon that she was working with Reeves to get a federal emergency disaster declaration request written "as quickly as possible."

Debris covers a damaged structure in Rolling Fork, Miss,. on Saturday. A powerful tornado tore through the Deep South on Friday night, killing several people in Mississippi and obliterating dozens of buildings.
Rogelio Solis / AP
/
AP
Debris covers a damaged structure in Rolling Fork, Miss,. on Saturday. A powerful tornado tore through the Deep South on Friday night, killing several people in Mississippi and obliterating dozens of buildings.

The National Weather Service said a severe weather threat for the area was continuing through Saturday evening, with the possibility of showers and thunderstorms into Sunday.

Experts say such a long-lasting tornado is "very rare"

In total, the tornado spanned roughly 170 miles and lasted over an hour, which Perrilloux of the NWS described as "very rare."

"This is one of the more rare tornadoes that we've seen in recorded Mississippi history given its longevity and strength over a period of time," he told NPR.

At least one other, weaker tornado may have hit Mississippi but it has not been confirmed, according to Perrilloux.

Reeves said search and rescue operations were continuing across the state.

"The loss will be felt in these towns forever," he said. "Please pray for God's hand to be over all who lost family and friends."

At least 13 people have died in Sharkey County, The Associated Press reported. Five more people were killed in Carroll County and Monroe County, which are northeast of Rolling Fork, according to ABC News.

In a Facebook live video, Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper Jose Watson also confirmed another death in Silver City.

As of Saturday afternoon, more than 40,000 customers had lost power in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, according to PowerOutage.us.

In Alabama, residents in Hamilton in Marion County reported roof damage, downed trees and powerlines, according to Al.com.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR
Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
Joe Hernandez