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Deadly tornado and severe storms sweep South

16 min ago

Mississippi governor and FEMA officials head to tornado-ravaged county

From CNN's Melissa Alonso

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and state emergency officials are heading to hard-hit Sharkey County, on the west side of the state near the border with Arkansas and Louisiana.

Several state agencies are also "responding to the devastating tornadoes that swept through the state overnight," according to a press release from Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The agency said "life safety is the number one priority and damage assessments will begin soon."

"Just completed command briefing with our disaster response team," Reeves tweeted Saturday morning. "Devastating damage—as everyone knows. This is a tragedy. I am on my way to Sharkey County to be with the people first hit," he said. 

A FEMA team is also headed to the county, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) said in a press release.

The 23 storm fatalities reported so far in the state are in Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll, and Monroe counties. There are still "dozens" injured and at least four people missing, according to state emergency officials.

"Life safety is the number one priority and damage assessments will begin soon," MEMA said, adding that several state agencies are responding across Mississippi.

Transportation department damaged: While there are no reports of damaged roadways in the Sharkey County area, a campus for the Mississippi Department of Transportation has been significantly damaged, MEMA said.

The hub is located near the small city of Rolling Fork, which was ravaged by the storm.

"Some MDOT employees have damaged and/or lost homes in the Rolling Fork area," MEMA said. Despite that, "some of those with damaged homes reported overnight to keep the area roads clear and safe."

According to the statement, big trucks are being detoured around Rolling Fork due to low or damaged power lines. The power company is working to make repairs.

"Humphreys County is using its multipurpose building for shelter. The American Red Cross will set up a shelter at the Greenville Multipurpose Center. The Red Cross is also providing food, offering one thousand meals for breakfast, one thousand meals for lunch, and one thousand meals for dinner," MEMA said.

CNN's Nick Valencia and Jessica Jordan contributed reporting.

40 min ago

State agency asks residents not to join the search-and-rescue effort on their own

From CNN’s Keith Allen

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency urged residents not to independently join the ongoing search-and-rescue effort Saturday morning after a tornado killed at least 23 people in the state.

In a tweet Saturday morning, the department said volunteers will be connected with state-organized groups at an appropriate time.

“Volunteer Mississippi is asking private citizens not to self-deploy. They will work to match unaffiliated volunteers with affiliated groups on the ground when the time is right. If you would like to donate water or resources the Rolling Fork Civic Center is open to receive them,” the state agency said in the tweet.
59 min ago

Alabama man dies after getting trapped in mobile home during storm, county official says

From CNN’s Keith Allen and Melissa Alonso

A Morgan County, Alabama, man was killed after being trapped inside his mobile home Friday night, according to a spokesperson from the county's emergency management department.

There are still widespread power outages throughout Morgan County after Friday night’s deadly storms, and officials are out working to assess the damage Saturday morning, the spokesperson, Brandy Davis, tells CNN.

Davis said it is unclear whether one powerful storm struck the county, or if two separate storms hit the area Friday night. She added that further information on the type and number of storms is expected Saturday.

Devastating toll of the storms: Mississippi faced the worst of the storms that ripped through the South Friday night, and it accounts for 23 of the 24 storm-related deaths that officials have confirmed to CNN as of Saturday morning.

The man killed in his Morgan County mobile home is the first notice of a death in Alabama that CNN has received from officials.

3 min ago

Mississippi business owner says she and others survived the tornado by sheltering in freezer

From CNN's Isabel Rosales, Jaide Timm-Garcia and Melissa Alonso 

Tracy Harden, owner of Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, told CNN a freezer "is what saved our lives" when a tornado ravaged her city and business.

She and several others who were inside the business ran for cover the moment the tornado hit, Harden explained to CNN's Isabel Rosales. 

"It was like, no notice," she said. "We didn't know what was happening. I got a message from my daughter and my sister saying, 'There's a tornado, get to safety,' and then one of my cashiers came and said her mom was on the phone and there was a tornado," she continued.
"Then all of a sudden, the lights—the lights started flickering and I don't know if it was me or someone else who said, 'Cooler!' And my husband just started pushing us all in the cooler and this little spot saved our lives," Harden said, as she wiped tears from her face. 

Harden said a customer who broke his arm was among the people she sheltered with, and he helped free the group from the freezer.

"He made a way to get us out and got us out—I don't know who he is, but I thank him," she said.

"Thank God we're alive but also, we're so devastated by the loss. The whole trailer park behind the building is gone and we don't know where everybody is, who's alive and who's gone," she said.
1 hr 12 min ago

"It sounded like a freight train": Mayor of small Mississippi city details tornado's devastation

From CNN's Isabel Rosales, Jaide Timm-Garcia in Rolling Fork, MS & Melissa Alonso in Atlanta

A devastating tornado ravaged the small city of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, Friday night as a series of severe storms swept through the South.

"Families are affected, homes are torn up, families are without a place to live, children are hungry this morning, (with) no clothes," the city's mayor, Eldridge Walker, said. 

"We're devastated," Walker told CNN's Isabel Rosales Saturday, as daylight broke in the storm-ravaged city. "It sounded like a freight train driving over my home and it happened so quickly."

"As you can see, we're in need of help," Walker added, motioning amid the scattered debris.

The mayor said he has been contacted by state officials and legislators for assistance. Many of the public buildings in the Mississippi city were affected or destroyed. 

"The City Hall is torn up; the police department is affected as well. (There's) quite a bit of damage and public buildings are displaced at this moment," he said.

Walker said "everybody knows each other" in the tight-knit community.

"Everybody that's been affected by this storm, every life that's been lost are people that I know," he said somberly. 

The mayor's message for all residents: "Be strong, be patient, thank God for what we have now — we are alive."

1 hr 37 min ago

Threat of strong winds and isolated tornadoes will continue through the weekend for Southern states

From CNN's Aya Elamroussi, Joe Sutton, Rebekah Riess, Mallika Kallingal and Sharif Paget

The main threats Saturday will be damaging winds and isolated tornadoes as the larger storm system heads east, with it expected to push off the East Coast by this evening.

On Sunday, a Level 2 out of 5 risk is in place across portions of the South for another round of severe storms that will bring damaging winds, isolated tornadoes and severe hail to the area.

The areas impacted will include Montgomery in Alabama, Jackson in Mississippi, and Columbus and Macon in Georgia.

Flooding could also pose a threat across portions of the South, as an additional 2 to 4 inches of rain is possible through Sunday.

1 hr 47 min ago

Power outages sweep through three states

Friday night's storms cut a ruinous path across the South, trapping people in their homes and knocking out power in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.

According to tracking site, the storms knocked out power for more than 83,000 homes and businesses across the three states as of 8:50 a.m. ET.

That included more than 47,000 outages reported in Tennessee alone.

Search and rescue teams are spread out across Mississippi searching for victims after at least one confirmed tornado touched down there. Residents say some entire neighborhoods were nearly leveled.

1 hr 51 min ago

At least 23 people killed in overnight storms

From CNN's Aya Elamroussi, Joe Sutton, Rebekah Riess, Mallika Kallingal and Sharif Paget

At least 23 people were killed, dozens injured and four missing after powerful storms and at least one tornado pummeled Mississippi Friday night, according to officials.

The storms ripped roofs off homes, nearly leveled some neighborhoods and knocked out power for thousands, authorities said.

The greater storm system is pushing east Saturday morning.

“We have numerous local and state search and rescue teams that continue to work this morning. A number of assets are on the ground to assist those that have been impacted,” the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.

“The loss will be felt in these towns forever. Please pray for God’s hand to be over all who lost family and friends,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted.

Search-and-rescue efforts for storm victims began after a confirmed tornado struck the towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork, the latter of which was described by one resident as obliterated.

The threat of storms persisted overnight for certain areas across northern Alabama and middle Tennessee, which faced tornado watches and warnings early Saturday.

Tornadoes or severe storms that occur at night have the greatest potential to be dangerous because people are less likely to be notified in time if they’re asleep.