Biden declares emergency after tornado that traversed 270 km and devastated Mississippi Delta

U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi, after a deadly tornado Friday ripped through the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest regions of the U.S.

At least 26 people were killed and dozens of others were injured

A white car is pictured with part of a collapsed building on it. A small structure with two windows, a door and a red roof is next to the car, upside-down.
The remains of a crushed house and cars are seen in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Saturday after a tornado touched down in the area. At least 25 people were killed in the state. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden early Sunday issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi, making federal funding available to Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe and Sharkey counties, the areas hardest hit Friday night by a deadly tornado that ripped through the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest regions of the U.S.

At least 25 people were killed and dozens of others were injured in Mississippi as the massive storm ripped through several towns on its hour-long path. One man was killed after his trailer home flipped several times in Alabama.

Search and recovery crews on Sunday resumed the daunting task of digging through the debris of flattened and battered homes, commercial buildings and municipal offices after hundreds of people were displaced.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell was scheduled to visit the state on Sunday to evaluate the destruction.

Tornado damage.
The remnants of a house destroyed by the Friday night tornado can be seen in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Sunday morning. (Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

FEMA co-ordinating officer John Boyle has been appointed to oversee federal recovery operations. Following Biden's declaration, federal funding can be used for recovery efforts including temporary housing, home repairs, loans covering uninsured property losses and other programs, the White House said in a statement.

Tornado in Georgia

The twister flattened entire blocks, obliterated houses, ripped a steeple off a church and toppled a municipal water tower. Even with recovery just starting, the U.S. National Weather Service warned of a risk of more severe weather Sunday — including high winds, large hail and possible tornadoes — in eastern Louisiana, south-central Mississippi and south-central Alabama.

A tornado reportedly touched down early Sunday in Troup County, Ga., near the Alabama border, according to the Georgia Mutual Aid Group. Affected areas included the county seat of LaGrange, about 108 kilometres southwest of Atlanta.

"Many buildings damaged, people trapped," the agency said on Facebook. In nearby West Point, roads, including Interstate Highway 85, were blocked by debris. "If you do not have to get on the roads this morning please do not travel."

Based on early data, Mississippi's tornado received a preliminary EF-4 rating, the National Weather Service office in Jackson said late Saturday in a tweet. An EF-4 tornado has top wind gusts between 265 km/h and 320 km/h, according to the service. The Jackson office cautioned it was still gathering information on the tornado.

A man wrapped in a blanket leans on his bandaged hand as he sits next to a table.
An injured man sits inside a makeshift clinic and relief centre in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Friday. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The Friday night tornado devastated a swath of the 2,000-person town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping cars on their sides and toppling the town's water tower. Other parts of the Deep South were digging out from damage caused by other suspected twisters. One man died in Morgan County, Ala., the sheriff's department there said in a tweet.

"How anybody survived is unknown by me," said Rodney Porter, who lives 32 kilometres south of Rolling Fork. When the storm hit Friday night, he immediately drove there to assist in any way he could. Porter arrived to find "total devastation" and said he smelled natural gas and heard people screaming for help in the dark.

"Houses are gone, houses stacked on top of houses with vehicles on top of that," he said.

'Cried last night, cried this morning'

Annette Body drove to the hard-hit town of Silver City from nearby Belozi to survey the damage. She said she was feeling "blessed" because her own home was not destroyed, but other people she knows lost everything.

"Cried last night, cried this morning," she said, looking around at flattened homes. "They said you need to take cover, but it happened so fast a lot of people didn't even get a chance to take cover."

Storm survivors walked around Saturday, many dazed and in shock, as they broke through thickly clustered debris and fallen trees with chain saws, searching for survivors. Power lines were pinned under decades-old oaks, their roots torn from the ground.

WATCH | Deadly tornados strike Mississippi and Alabama:

At least 26 killed by tornadoes in southeast U.S.

6 months ago
Duration 2:04
More than two dozen people in several U.S. states have been killed by tornadoes that have left some communities completely destroyed. Search and rescue efforts are now underway to find survivors.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency and vowed to help rebuild as he viewed the damage in a region speckled with wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. He spoke with Biden, who also held a call with the state's congressional delegation.

More than a half-dozen shelters were opened in Mississippi to house those who have been displaced.

Preliminary information based on estimates from storm reports and radar data indicate the tornado was on the ground for more than an hour and traversed at least 274 kilometres, said Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Jackson, Miss., office.

"That's rare — very, very rare," he said, attributing the long path to widespread atmospheric instability.

Perrilloux said preliminary findings showed the tornado began its path of destruction just southwest of Rolling Fork before continuing northeast toward the rural communities of Midnight and Silver City and onward toward Tchula, Black Hawk and Winona.

The supercell that produced the deadly twister also appeared to produce tornadoes causing damage in northwest and north-central Alabama, said Brian Squitieri, a severe storms forecaster with the weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

A man tosses objects onto a pile of tornado debris.
Charlie Weissinger tosses away the panelling from one of the desks in his father's demolished law office in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Saturday. (Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)