Mississippi tornado leaves path of death, destruction – update

Yazoo City, Mississippi (CNN) — Rescue crews dug through rubble Sunday, a day after a tornado almost a mile wide tore through parts of Mississippi.

The twister killed at least 10 people and devastated neighborhoods as it raked cities from the central western border with Louisiana northeastward to Alabama.

It leveled a church, sheared roofs off houses, overturned cars and plunged large swaths of the state in darkness as it toppled power lines.

“You could just feel the glass and debris flying in and cutting you,” said Stacy Walker, who took cover in a hair salon in Yazoo City where she worked. “It felt like minutes and minutes, but I’m sure it was just seconds the time that it lasted.”

Walker made it out safe, but later learned that a high school friend died protecting her children.

Two of the dead were children and one was a 3-month-old baby, said spokesman Jeff Rent of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Five of the dead were from Choctaw County, in the north central part of the state; four were from Yazoo County, north of Jackson; and one was from Holmes County, also in north central Mississippi, said Greg Flynn, another MEMA spokesman.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in Yazoo City, where his home is located, called the twister “gigantic” and said that “in places [it] seemed to be several miles wide.”

Damage assessments were to take place in Yazoo and Choctaw counties Sunday afternoon, Flynn said.

Search and rescue operations were ongoing Sunday morning, though there weren’t any specific reports of anyone trapped inside the rubble, he said.

Only 38 people stayed overnight in shelters in Yazoo City, Flynn said, adding that most of those affected were able to stay with family or friends.

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Dale Thrasher was inside Yazoo City’s Hillcrest Baptist Church when it was flattened by the tornado.

“I went in the sanctuary and got under the pulpit table and the whole building fell around me,” he said.

His injuries: “Three little scratches.”

In Eagle Lake, near the Louisiana border, about 30 homes were destroyed. In Holmes County, 50 homes sustained structural damage, the National Weather Service reported.

Parts of three highways were closed due to downed trees and other damage: Highway 3 in Yazoo County and Highways 14 and 17 in Holmes County, the Mississippi Department of Transportation said.

In all, 12 counties reported injuries, with some of the injured airlifted to a level-one trauma center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Many tornado victims sought attention at King’s Daughters hospital in Yazoo City, where only one doctor was on duty Saturday night, said Jess Silvino, a nurse who worked at the facility.

Local coverage from CNN affiliate WAPT

President Obama has “been briefed on the tragedy in Mississippi and the situation is being followed by the White House,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.

Barbour said he has not yet requested emergency federal aid but plans to do so on Monday.

Rob and Ashley Saxton were driving to a Yazoo City restaurant owned by Rob’s father, planning to take shelter in the restaurant’s walk-in freezer ahead of the tornado, when the twister blew out the car’s windows at a red light.

The car was tossed across the intersection, then picked up again and flung into the restaurant.

“It was amazing. It scared us plumb to death,” Rob Saxton said.

Mississippi residents reported that the path of the twister was a half-mile to a mile wide, said Mark McAllister, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said the tornado had traveled 150 miles across Mississippi, starting in the western part of the state and moving northeast before weakening as it moved into Alabama.

Early Sunday morning, Alabama’s emergency management officials confirmed a tornado touched down in Marshall County in the state’s north.

At least one mobile home park and some homes in Albertville were destroyed, said CNN affiliate WAFF in Huntsville.

Saturday’s tornado was part of a broad band of storms that stretched from Missouri to the panhandle of Florida, Jeras said.

Saturday’s twister struck Louisiana before it moved into Mississippi. A Tallulah, Louisiana, police dispatcher said a chemical plant in the city had been damaged, but gave no further details.

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