'I'm surprised anyone survived': Mississippi tornado death toll expected to rise after leaving at least 25 dead
ROLLING FORK -- The destruction and devastation on Seventh Street mirrored the entire town in the middle of the Mississippi Delta.
A massive tornado found Seventh Street as one of its first targets Friday night as it ripped through Rolling Fork, Silver Springs, Tchula and across the state to Amory, leaving death and cities swept by chaos.
The aftermath resulted in 25 dead throughout the state with a death toll expected to rise. Of the 25 announced, at least 13 were from Rolling Fork. However, by midday Saturday, the official total in Rolling Fork was already up to 18 with as many as two dozen people not accounted for.
"Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change," MEMA said in a statement.
John Brewer and his wife Joyce were sitting in their home Friday night on Seventh Street, when the storm came through. Brewer, a long-haul trucker, who hauls munitions across the country for the U.S. Military, parked his 27,000-pound truck next to his home.
The tornado, which destroyed Brewer's home, lifted the tractor trailer off the ground and dropped it on his neighbor's home, killing L.A. Pierce and his wife Melissa. Emergency workers arrived on the scene as soon as possible, but the Pierces did not survive.
A complete loss
There are nearly 20 homes on Seventh Street with around 80 residents. Every home was a complete loss. Mary Womble, across the street from the Brewers and Pierces, grabbed her daughter and their pets and jumped in their bathtub when she heard the road of the approaching tornado. The only thing left of the home was the bathroom. Womble and her family were not injured at all.
Womble's neighbor left home and stayed with her mother. Her home was completely destroyed with none of the structure still standing.
"You look down this street and see the houses. I'm surprised anyone survived," Brewer said. "If the rest of the town is like this, there could be hundreds of people killed."
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Seventh Street is like the rest of the town as virtually all of the downtown area destroyed. Rolling Fork is a town of fewer than 2,000 residents in the second smallest county in Mississippi. The roof of the courthouse was ripped away. At least three were killed in a Dollar General store. Almost every street was littered with limbs, downed power lines and debris.
Brewer has found his boat trailer tossed across into the neighbor's property. However, there was no boat left on the trailer. It was eventually found nearly two miles away in another neighborhood.
The tornado also took down one of the town's two water towers, leaving Rolling Fork without any running water. There is also no power with no expectation of when power could be restored. The water could take longer to take care of, officials said.
Victoria Garland of Onward, along with her husband, Thomas, was in Rolling Fork until the early hours this morning doing what she could do to help. Although it was dark, what she could see painted a grim picture.
"It's really bad in town," Garland said. "It's total devastation.
"A lot we could see was gone. The skyline you grew up with your whole life is gone. The businesses we rely on are gone. We're definitely in shock."
A miracle amid the chaos
Garland also said an animal shelter was destroyed where she said something just shy of a miracle happened.
"The animal shelter was hit, but three dogs survived," she said. "I don't know how. To find a live dog was unbelievable. It's just unreal."
While the Mississippi Department of Transportation continues to report significant amounts of debris blocking roads, it seems some debris traveled over 100 miles inside of the storm.
Mississippi musician Andrew Bryant posted a photo on Twitter of a check from the Rolling Fork Rotary Club that he said landed in his aunt's yard in Big Creek, over a hundred miles away in Mississippi.
Just down the road on Mississippi 14, just east of Anguilla, Kimberly Berry stood on the side of the road and looked at the remains of her home. She lost everything, but she escaped danger by sheltering in her church a few miles away.
State of emergency declared
Gov. Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency Saturday morning in response to the devastation, shortly after announcing that he was on his way to Sharkey County.
"I'm devastated by the destruction and loss of life that these storms have caused," Reeves said in a statement. "The state of Mississippi will continue doing everything we can to marshal every resource available to support our fellow Mississippians who are in need. The state will be there to help them rebuild. We're not going anywhere and we're in it for the long haul. Please join me in praying for the family and friends of those who lost loved ones in this trying time."
The tornado began its path of destruction just southwest of Rolling Fork before continuing northeast toward the rural communities of Midnight and Silver City before moving toward Tchula, Black Hawk and Winona.
The supercell that produced the deadly twister also appeared to produce tornadoes that caused damage in northwest and north-central Alabama, Brian Squitieri, a severe-storm forecaster with Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma told the Associated Press. He said survey teams were working to assess how many tornadoes struck in Mississippi and Alabama.
In Silver Springs, a little more than 10 miles from Rolling Fork, Christine Chinn's husband heard the storm and ran to the window, where he saw the tornado charging at them. He hurried the family into the hallway. She said within 30 seconds, the tornado had ripped a hole through the house and moved on. Everyone, however, was safe.
As many as six people were reported dead in Silver Springs, one of which was feared to be a young child.
Across town, Noel Crook and his wife survived the storm by sheltering in their bathroom. In an apartment building nearby, Terry and Debra York lived in an apartment complex that was struck by the tornado. Their neighbor was killed while he was sleeping as the ceiling collapsed on him.
Amory escapes without fatalities
A joint search and rescue operation concluded by Saturday afternoon in Amory, Mississippi, according to Amory Assistant Police Chief Nicholaus Weaver.
“All the residential buildings in the town have been searched and found clear,” Weaver said Saturday. “Now it’s about the clean-up — getting to the roads to make sure they’re open. It’s going to be a long process. Power lines are down on almost every street and most of them are intertwined with the trees.”
Weaver said there have not been any fatalities inside the Amory town limits, though said there were injuries.
The town is also operating without clean drinking water, due to a “direct hit,” as Weaver put it, to Amory’s water treatment plant.
Few buildings remained unscathed, with some being completely demolished by tornado — and many requiring extensive repairs from falling tree limbs or entire trees being ripped from the ground and thrown into buildings.
For those who have been displaced by the storm, the old National Guard Armory had been converted to a shelter at 101 9th Ave.
Clarion Ledger reporter Hannah Mattix and Commercial Appeal reporter Lucas Finton contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi tornado destroys Rolling Fork; path leaves total devastation