Some 23 killed by tornadoes in Mississippi

“Devastating damage, as everyone knows. This is a tragedy,” the governor said.

Powerful tornadoes ripped through parts of the southeastern United States late Friday, killing 23 people in Mississippi, flattening dozens of buildings and leaving a particularly devastating mark on a rural town whose mayor declared, “My town is gone.”

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency tweeted early Saturday that 23 people were dead, four were missing and dozens more injured across the state. The agency added that search and rescue teams from numerous state and local agencies were assisting those affected by the tornadoes.

The agency warned that the number of victims could rise, tweeting: “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted Saturday that he was heading to Sharkey County, whose Rolling Folk County offices were razed. “Devastating damage, as everyone knows. This is a tragedy.”

The US National Weather Service confirmed a tornado caused damage about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork reported extensive damage from the tornado, which was moving toward Alabama at 70 mph (113 km/h) through Winona, Amory and other towns without weakening.

Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN that his town had been virtually leveled. A video recorded at dawn showed houses reduced to piles of rubble, overturned cars and trees without branches. From time to time, amidst the rubble, an apparently intact house could be seen.

“My people have disappeared, but we are resistant and we are going to come back strong,” he said.

As the storm raged, the National Weather Service issued an alert Friday night that didn’t mince words: “To protect your life, TAKE CARE NOW!”

“Your life is in danger,” he warned. “Flying debris can be fatal for those caught without shelter. Many mobile homes will be destroyed. Homes, businesses and vehicles are likely to sustain severe damage and total destruction is possible.”

Cornel Knight told The Associated Press that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were staying with relatives in Rolling Fork when the tornado hit. He recounted that the sky was dark, but “you could see the direction of it for every transformer that blew up.”

He indicated that everything was “absolutely silent” when it happened. Knight said he was on the driveway until the tornado was, he estimated, less than a mile away. He then asked everyone in the residence to take shelter in a corridor.

He commented that the tornado hit the house of other relatives on the other side of a large cornfield from where they were. A wall of that residence collapsed and trapped several people. As Knight spoke by phone with The Associated Press, he claimed that he could see the lights of emergency vehicles at that partially collapsed house.

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