Thunderstorms and a deadly tornado hit the southeastern U.S. on Friday night, leading to numerous fatalities and widespread damage across several states.
As severe thunderstorms moved through Mississippi late Friday, a tornado emergency was declared around 8:05 p.m. local time in the communities of Belzoni, Anguilla, and Rolling Fork, according to a tweet by the National Weather Service.
The tornado obliterated the town of Rolling Fork before moving along Highway 49 to the northwest side of Tchula, according to ABC News.
The National Weather Service estimated the tornado to be an EF-4, with maximum winds of 170 miles per hour, per CNN. Many buildings and homes were destroyed, leaving families and communities struggling from the devastation.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MSEMA) tweeted that at least 23 people died, dozens were injured, and four were missing after Friday’s tornado outbreak.
The MSEMA continues to work with state search and rescue teams to assist those impacted by the tornadoes.
“I’m devastated by the destruction and loss of life that these storms have caused,” said Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, per CNN.
The governor said he submitted a request for an expedited Major Disaster Declaration in four counties, adding, “The president assured me that as soon as he got it, he would sign it.”
President Joe Biden said he and his staff are currently working to evaluate the damage but will do everything they can to help the recovery process.
“The images from across Mississippi are heartbreaking. While we are still assessing the full extent of the damage, we know that many of our fellow Americans are not only grieving for family and friends, they’ve lost their homes and businesses,” Biden said, per ABC News.
“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. We will be there as long as it takes. We will work together to deliver the support you need to recover,” Biden said.
Search and rescue operations were underway in the counties of Sharkey and Humphreys. Sharkey County accounted for at least 13 of the deaths due to the tornado, per CNN.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised support from their agencies during a news conference in Rolling Fork.
“We know that this is going to be a long-term recovery event,” Criswell said, per USA Today. “We can see that one of the major issues we’re going to face is housing.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the communities in Mississippi that have been struck by the devastating tornadoes. I have spoken with Governor @tatereeves, @SenatorWicker, @SenHydeSmith, and Congressman @BennieGThompson. Through @FEMA, DHS will provide support to the impacted communities as we work together to respond and recover from this disaster,” tweeted Mayorkas.
Areas outside of Mississippi were also affected by the storm as it crossed through the southern U.S. Alabama and Tennessee were also impacted, resulting in losses of power for thousands, per CNN.
An Alabama man was trapped inside his mobile home during the storm and later died due to the injuries he sustained, per CNN.
Reeves said that disasters like this should shift the focus of conversations to recovery help for those in need.
“It’s been my experience, in times like this, that there is no such thing as politics,” Reeves said, per USA Today. “This doesn’t have anything to do with politics. All this has to do with is helping our friends and our neighbors.”