At least one powerful tornado tore through rural Mississippi the night of Friday, March 24, killing or injuring dozens and causing widespread destruction.
By Saturday night, an update from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) reported the death toll had risen to 25 and dozens of others were injured; four persons reported missing are accounted for. The update said multiple state agencies and partners are working together to help in response and recovery efforts.
“The loss will be felt in these towns forever,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a Twitter post on March 25. “Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends.”
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, extended his prayers and encouraged Catholics to support all communities affected by this tragic event. “We join in prayer for all those affected by the storms that crossed our state,” he said in a statement posted on the diocesan website March 25.
The National Weather Service confirmed tornado damage about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi, with most of the destruction reported in Silver City and Rolling Fork, a rural town of about 1,800 people.
Processing information from damage surveys could take days to complete, but the National Weather Service noted the Rolling Fork/Silver City tornado has a preliminary EF-4 rating, which estimates wind speeds to have been 166-200 mph.
“My city is gone. But we are resilient,” Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker said on CNN. Video and photos of the area showed houses reduced to rubble. On Twitter, Gov. Reeves shared photos of relief efforts underway in Rolling Fork, Silver City, Amory and Winona, noting perseverance, unity and even prayer behind the response of responders and volunteers.
Marvin Edwards, a lay ecclesial minister of Sacred Heart Parish in Winona, shared what it was like to be in the tornado’s path. He said that he and his wife — who live 20 miles away from the parish — were in bed for the night when the tornado struck.
Edwards said it all happened quickly and that they were not injured. They saw the damage once it was morning. “The tornado had a mile-wide path, and it picked up (strength) as it moved across the lake,” he said. “It took the roof off my house. I’ve got two cars with a big tree sitting across them; both of them are smashed.”
“As far as I know, all of our parishioners (at Sacred Heart) are OK. We don’t have a lot of parishioners; we’re a small mission church,” he said. “My immediate thought was, ‘I got angels protecting me evidently.’ I just thanked Him (God). Something was protecting me.”
WAPT16, a television station in Jackson, Mississippi, said that the nighttime tornado, which formed near Rolling Fork, continued for miles through Mississippi and into Alabama.