At least 23 people died as violent storms and at least one tornado ripped through the US state of Mississippi, tearing off roofs and flattening neighborhoods, officials and residents said Saturday.
The southern state’s emergency management agency said at least four people were missing and dozens were injured, while tens of thousands of people in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee were without power.
“At least 23 Mississippians were killed by last night’s violent tornados. We know that many more are injured. Search and rescue teams are still active,” Governor Tate Reeves said on Twitter.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever. Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends.”
Confirming the death toll at 23, the emergency management agency cautioned: “Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change.”
Search and rescue operations were underway in Sharkey and Humphreys counties, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of the state capital Jackson, the agency said on Twitter.
“My city is gone,” Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker, whose town is located in Sharkey county, told CNN.
He told CBS affiliate WJTV that when he was able to leave his home, “what we found is devastation all around us.”
Woodrow Johnson, a local official in Humphreys County, told CNN his wife woke him up and they heard what sounded like a train.
“It was a very scary thing,” Johnson said, adding his neighbor’s house, a trailer, was “completely gone.”
The National Weather Service warned residents that as clean-up operations continue, “dangers remain even after the storms move on.”
TV footage showed homes levelled and debris strewn across roads as emergency services attempted to get to those who needed help.
“As far as official damage numbers, we’re not going to have that until morning, daylight time,” said the emergency management agency’s Malary White.
“Our main priority right now, especially for the local first responders, it’s life safety and accounting for the people and making sure they are safe,” she told CBS News affiliate WJTV.
Tornado warnings had been issued in various counties throughout the state on Friday, but by 2:48 am (0748 GMT) on Saturday, the National Weather Service said the “tornado watch has expired across our forecast area.”
“Additional showers and thunderstorms are expected across our area,” it said on Twitter, adding that they were “not expected to become severe.”
Texas Train Deaths
The disaster in Mississippi follows another tragedy Friday in Texas, where an anonymous emergency telephone call led authorities to halt a train that contained a group of “suffocating” migrants, two of whom were dead, police in Texas said.
The US Border Patrol stopped the train east of Knippa, a small community in southern Texas near the city of San Antonio, police said.
“Approximately 15 migrants were discovered to be in need of immediate medical attention, five of the immigrants were flown out to San Antonio area hospitals, five were transported to area hospitals, and their conditions are unknown,” the statement by the Uvalde Police Department said.
“Two of the immigrants were pronounced deceased.”
Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin confirmed that two people had died, according to ABC News, but put the total number of people trapped in the container at 17.
Twelve were sent to hospitals, while three were “okay,” McLaughlin said.
Union Pacific, a freight-hauling railroad company, “will lead the investigation,” police said.
Temperatures near where the train was stopped reached 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the late afternoon, according to local news channel KSAT in San Antonio.
“We are heartbroken to learn of yet another tragic incident of migrants taking the dangerous journey,” US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said on Twitter.
“We will work with the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office to hold those (perpetrators) responsible. Smugglers are callous and only care about making a profit,” he added.
Uvalde, where police received the 911 emergency call at 3:50 pm (2050 GMT), burst into the news 10 months ago with an elementary school shooting in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, along with the gunman.
It was the third-deadliest school shooting in US history after one in 2007 at Virginia Tech and another in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.