Tornadoes ripping through Mississippi Friday night left at least 21 dead, dozens injured and a trail of destruction throughout the Delta and into the state’s northern region.
The death toll has been a moving target. Early Saturday, it was 23. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency adjusted it to 25 later in the day before lowering it on Monday to 21.
Four other residents earlier today reported missing have been accounted for, according to a news release from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The fatalities are from Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll and Monroe counties. Search and rescue teams are on the ground.
The National Weather Service reported a 70-mph tornado swept through the towns of Rolling Fork and Silver City in Sharkey County before heading on a path to Alabama, hitting the towns of Amory and Winona.
Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital in Rolling Fork lost power and was transferring its patients, including those in its nursing home, to other hospitals, according to MEMA.
“My city – my city is gone,” Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN Saturday morning. “But we are resilient and we are going to come back strong.”
Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital CEO Jerry Keever was at the nursing home when reached by Mississippi Today. He described it as like “being in the middle of a war zone.”
He confirmed the hospital is closed, and there is a temporary hospital set up at the armory.
Baptist Memorial Hospital in Yazoo City, about 40 miles away from Rolling Fork, received more than 20 patients injured in the tornadoes as of Saturday morning.
“Almost all patients were treated at the hospital. Any that the hospital couldn’t treat were transferred,” said Kim Alexander, a spokesperson for Baptist. ” … Across the board, team members came in to do whatever was needed. There was a great response from ambulance crews as well.”
Tornado expert Walker Ashley described the tornado as a supercell that brews the deadliest tornados and most damaging hail in the U.S., according to The Associated Press. A nighttime one like this one is “the worst kind,” said Ashley, a meteorology professor at the University of Northern Illinois.
“You mix a particularly socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado, and disaster will happen,” Ashley said in an email to the AP.
Cornell Knight told AP that he, his wife and 3-year-old daughter were visiting a relative in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck. They took shelter in the hallway. The tornado struck another relative’s home across a cornfield, trapping several people inside.
People hoping to donate water or other resources can bring them to the Rolling Fork Armory, also called the Rolling Fork Civic Center, MEMA said. The center is located at the following address: 19719 US 61 in Rolling Fork, MS 39159.
In Jackson, people can bring donations to the State Fairgrounds at 1207 Mississippi St. The center there is accepting bottled water, canned goods, and paper products from 1:30 P.M. until 5 P.M. on Saturday.
Volunteer Mississippi is asking private citizens not to self-deploy, MEMA added, but the organization will match interested volunteers with affiliated groups “when the time is right.”
MEMA said around 10 a.m. on Saturday that additional personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was on the way to Mississippi.
Gov. Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency Saturday morning, and will send it to the federal government for “expedited approval,” adding that he was confident of the request being approved. Reeves said the state is requesting relief through FEMA’s Individual Assistance, which sends resources directly to impacted residents, and Public Assistance, which funds rebuilding public buildings and infrastructure, programs.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Reeves said Saturday morning at a press briefing in Rolling Fork. “We’re going to fight like a hell to make sure we get as many resources to this area as possible.”
He said he’s heard from governors in other states, from both political parties, offering their concern and support.
“My prayers are with the people of Mississippi today as so many have lost homes or loved ones from last night’s devastating storms,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Gov. Edwards. “Louisiana understands the pain they are going through right now, and if there is anything we can do, we stand ready to help our neighbors.
MEMA Executive Director Stephen McCraney said he first heard from FEMA Friday night, and expects a team from the federal agency to arrive by 1 p.m. Saturday to help assess the damages.
Impacted residents seeking assistance should contact their county emergency management official, a MEMA spokesperson said. Residents can find the phone number for their county EMA at this link. MEMA also shared the following shelter locations:
National Guard Armory
19719 US 61, Rolling Fork, MS, 39159
Humphreys County Multipurpose BLDG
417 Silver City Road, Belzoni, MS, 39038
Old Amory National Guard Building
101 S 9th St., Amory, MS, 38821
MEMA added that the American Red Cross is setting up a shelter at the Greenville Multipurpose Center.
The Mississippi Department of Public Safety is partnering with MEMA and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture to accept donations from 1:30-5 p.m. today at the armory on the state fairgrounds in Jackson of bottled water, canned goods and paper products for those affected by accepting donations.the storms. The site will also be open from 9 a.m. t0 3 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday.
The Rolling Fork National Guard/Civic Center also is open.
Molina mobile clinic will be set up at the Sharkey County Civic Center beginning Sunday, according to the Mississippi Insurance Department.
The Division of Medicaid has enacted a provision allowing fee-for-service beneficiaries affected by the tornadoes to receive early refills and additional prescriptions above the monthly limit.
Geoff Pender contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story reported that officials last estimated on March 25 that there were 25 fatalities as the result of the March 24 tornadoes. On March 27, the Mississippi Emergency Management Association downgraded the total number of deaths to 21.