US President Joe Biden declares emergency as crews dig through wreckage
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At least 25 people were killed and dozens of others were injured in Mississippi on Friday night (Saturday AEDT) 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.

Wonder Bolden cradles her year-old granddaughter Journey Bolden as she surveys the remains of her mother’s tornado demolished mobile home in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, Saturday March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) (AP)

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

FEMA Coordinating 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 individual and business programs, the White House said in a statement.

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 National Weather Service warned of a risk of more severe weather on Sunday — including high winds, large hail and possible tornadoes — in eastern Louisiana, south central Mississippi and south central Alabama.

Based on early data, the 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 265km/h and 320km/h, according to the service.

The Jackson office cautioned it was still gathering information on the tornado.

A sheriff’s deputy climbs onto a pile of wind-tossed vehicles to search for survivors or the deceased at Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, Saturday, March 25, 2023. . (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) (AP)

The Friday night tornado devastated a swath of the 2000-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, Alabama, 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.

Melanie Childs of Amory, Mississippi, sits on a bucket and holds her two children, Mila, 1, left, and Major, 2, as they view what’s left of her grandfather, Barrie Young, home Saturday 25, 2023. (Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily) (AP)

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

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.”

William Barnes talks about the damage to his property on Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Silver City, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Michael Goldberg) (AP)

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.

Mississippi Governor 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.

Charlie Weissinger, tosses away the paneling from one of the desks in his father’s demolished law office in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) (AP)

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, Mississippi, office.

“That’s rare — very, very rare,” he said, attributing the long path to widespread atmospheric instability.

A backyard pool is left hanging on a cliffside after torrential rain brought havoc on the beachfront town of San Clemente, California, U.S. March 16, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Pool left teetering off cliffside after major rain in US

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, Oklahoma.

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