As Mississippi picks up the pieces after deadly tornado-spawning storms, more than 20 million people are under the risk for severe storms across much of the South and parts of the Midwest on Sunday.
Multiple rounds of storms are possible throughout the day, with parts of Alabama and Georgia expecting storms in the morning that threaten to bring large hail. Parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana also face an enhanced risk of severe storms.
Already, residents across the Southeast are reeling from powerful storms and tornadoes that pummeled the region Friday night, killing at least 26 people and injuring dozens more. The storms nearly leveled some neighborhoods and knocked power out for thousands, officials said.
At least 10 tornadoes were confirmed to have hit Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, according to several National Weather Service offices.
President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for counties in Mississippi early Sunday morning, ordering federal aid to help recovery efforts in the areas affected by the severe storms, straight-line winds and tornadoes that made their way across the state.
“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” a release from the White House said.
Meanwhile, additional storms – capable of producing very large hail, tornadoes and fierce winds – are expected to form across portions of eastern Texas on Sunday afternoon then likely to push into Louisiana, Mississippi, and eventually Alabama, through the afternoon and evening.
A Level 3 out of 5 risk for severe storms has been issued by the Storm Prediction Center across portions of eastern Louisiana, south-central Mississippi and south-central Alabama. The threatened area includes Jackson, Hattiesburg and Meridian in Mississippi, as well as Montgomery and Prattville in Alabama.
“Large hail to very large hail should be the main threat with any supercells,” the Storm Prediction Center said. “Damaging winds and a few tornadoes also appear possible.”
The storms will then push east into the Carolinas by Sunday afternoon, posing a threat for damaging winds. A marginal risk for severe storms also includes parts of central Illinois and Indiana.
“Lord, I don’t wanna die,” Rolling Folk, Mississippi, resident Shanta Howard thought as a tornado walloped her town, she recalled to CNN affiliate WAPT.
The overnight EF-4 tornado flattened much of the community of Rolling Fork, which saw estimated maximum winds of 170 miles per hour, NWS Meteorologist Bill Parker told CNN’s Jim Acosta.
EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes are considered ‘violent’ and extremely rare, and make up only about 1% of all tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The last EF-4 tornado to hit Mississippi was on April 19, 2020.
When the sun came up Saturday, drone footage showed homes completely leveled and reduced to piles of wood, vehicles tossed around and trees splintered.
Mayor Eldridge Walker of Rolling Fork – a town of fewer than 2,000 residents – says his “city is gone.”
“The police department is destroyed. City hall is destroyed. The county courthouse is damaged. The fire department is devastated. There’s no grocery store that’s operable in the community,” US Rep. Bennie Thompson told CNN.
As search-and-rescue efforts continued, the community’s only hospital was offline Saturday and the injured were being transported to the nearest hospital over 50 miles away, Thompson said.
“We have been finding several casualties,” said Sharkey County supervisor Jessie Mason. “It’s just an ongoing process and it’s gonna be a long road ahead.”
Rolling Fork vice mayor LaDonna Sias described the terrifying moments as residents of the small town hid from the destructive tornado, taking cover in closets, in tubs and under pillows as the storm roared outside.
“It seemed like forever until that noise stopped,” Sias recalled, describing stepping out to see homes destroyed and hearing people screaming. Sias’ own home was destroyed in the tornado.
“It was just totally devastating,” she said. “Even though we lost everything, this stuff can be replaced. Material things can be replaced, but to lose a loved one – it was just heart wrenching,” Sias said.
Another report of a tornado – which traveled through Blackhawk in Carroll County and Winona in Montgomery County, Mississippi, overnight into Saturday – has received a preliminary EF-3 rating, according to the National Weather Service in Jackson.
In Carroll County, three people died in one home, coroner Mark Stiles told CNN, adding it appears they were killed in a tornado.
Deanne Criswell, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN the agency has sent a team to the state to help with immediate needs and plan for long term recovery.
“We want to make sure that the state has everything that they need as we work to make sure that no additional lives are lost,” Criswell said.
Following Biden’s approval, federal funding will now be available to those affected in Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe and Sharkey counties, according to a release from the White House.
The storm system also impacted northern Alabama and south-central Tennessee as Friday night gave way to Saturday.
A Morgan County, Alabama, man was killed after being trapped inside his mobile home, according to Brandy Davis, director with Morgan County Emergency Management.
At least three tornadoes occurred in northern Alabama, according to the National Weather Service’s Huntsville office. An EF-2 tornado also touched down near Fayetteville, Tennessee, just north of the Tennessee-Alabama border. Additional storm surveys will be conducted over the next few days.
How to give or receive help after the Mississippi tornado