19 dead as 'destructive' tornado, storms batter Mississippi, officials say
At least 19 people died as a "destructive" tornado and strong thunderstorms swept across Mississippi late Friday, leaving a trail of damage for more than 100 miles, local and federal authorities said.
Search and rescue operations were underway in Sharkey and Humphreys counties, Mississippi's Emergency Management Agency said late Friday. The agency issued a series of tornado warnings in counties throughout the state.
"Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God's protection tonight," Gov. Tate Reeves said on Twitter. "We have activated medical support -- surging more ambulances and other emergency assets for those affected. Search and rescue is active."
Thirteen people died in Sharkey County, Coroner Angelia Easton told ABC News, adding that she could not yet confirm their ages. Carroll County Coroner Mark Stiles said three people had died. Another two were dead in Monroe County, Coroner Alan Gurley said. Jose Watson, a Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper, said one person died in Silver City, in Humphreys County.
As thunderstorms battered the state late Friday, a tornado was reported at about 8:50 p.m. local time in the area of Silver City and Rolling Fork, the National Weather Service said.
Rolling Fork was "pretty much devastated,” United Cajun Navy President Todd Terrell said in a phone interview with ABC News.
From there, the tornado rolled on to the northwest side of Tchula and along Highway 49, officials said.
"9:31 PM - Confirmed tornado is on the ground moving across I-55 moving into the city of Winona in Montgomery County shortly," NWS officials in Jackson, Mississippi, said in an alert on Twitter about a half-hour later. "Take cover now!"
A Tornado Emergency alert was later issued for Winona, a city about 100 miles northeast of Rolling Fork, with a "destructive tornado moving northeast through town," NWS official said.
Watson urged people to stay away from Silver City unless they have family there. He said the scene was "chaotic," with traffic through the area making it difficult for search and rescue crews to do their jobs.
"Please be advised, Silver City has been hit really, really hard with a tornado," Watson said in a video posted on Facebook, before later describing the damage to some areas as "very catastrophic."
Terrell, of the United Cajun Navy, said he based his description of the storm on information from 17 of the organization's volunteers in Rolling Fork.
“I would say that it's in Joplin or worse,” referencing the 2011 tornado that killed 161 people.
He said his team’s main priority is assisting in rescues, noting that “there's a lot of people still trapped in their homes.” He also flagged clean water and food as a significant concern.
“It seems as though the big ones hit at night, and you don't have a warning for him,” he said. “We knew that it was going to be bad in that areas, but nobody can prepare to prepare for this total devastation.”