South reels from deadly tornado outbreak; 2-year-old among the 22 dead in Mississippi

At least 27 tornadoes were reported across five states -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

ByVictoria Arancio, Kenton Gewecke and Bill Hutchinson ABCNews logo
Monday, March 27, 2023
Deadly tornado outbreak devastates South
An EF-4 tornado cut a 60-mile path of destruction in Mississippi with winds up to 170 mph.

ROLLING ROCK, Miss. -- Communities in the southern United States awoke Monday morning reeling from a deadly tornado outbreak and powerful thunderstorms.

Over the weekend, at least 27 tornadoes were reported across five states -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Officials said at least 22 people died in Mississippi, where one long-track twister left a trail of destruction for about 59 miles. There was at least one storm-related death in Alabama, where officials said a man succumbed to his injures after being rescued by first responder.

President Joe Biden approved disaster relief for Mississippi on Sunday.

Death and damage

The severe tornado that tore through Rolling Fork, Mississippi, late Friday was assigned a rating of EF-4, a classification that marks it as a rare and powerful storm.

The National Weather Service office in Jackson, Mississippi, said the preliminary rating comes as staffers are still gathering information about the storm.

The EF, or Enhanced Fujita, scale assigns tornados a number from zero to five based on damage, with five being the most catastrophic. According to the Storm Prediction Center, EF-4 tornadoes make up only 1% of all tornadoes. Historically, the vast majority of twisters have been rated EF-0 or EF-1.

Early data showed that the tornado was on the ground for 59 miles over a period of about 70 minutes. Its maximum width was about three-quarters of a mile, or roughly 4,000 feet.

The tornado's maximum wind gust was measured at 170 mph.

Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker said search-rescue efforts were "pretty close" to finished and authorities believe everyone has been accounted for. He said his town of roughly 1,800 people was nearly wiped off the map.

"The community has been destroyed. And now we've got to put the pieces back together again," Walker said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Walker is also the town's funeral director and said some of the 20 people killed in the tornado that struck his town were friends.

Rolling Rock resident Erwin Macon stood outside his completely decimated home with just a suitcase that he said held all the possessions he has left. Macon told ABC News that during the tornado he was shielded from flying debris by a carpet that came out of nowhere and landed on him.

Macon said he is just thankful to be alive.

"This can all be replaced," he said of his home. "I'll be OK."

A separate Mississippi tornado cut a 28.6-mile path of destruction through Carroll and Montgomery counties, killing three people and causing extensive damage in the town of Blackhawk and Winona. The half-mile-wide twister, preliminarily ranked an EF-3 by the National Weather Service, created winds as high as 155 mph and was on the ground for more 25 minutes.

At least four other tornadoes, all measuring EF-1 and packing winds of 90 to 110 mph, also touched down in Mississippi.

In Silver City, where an EF-4 tornado hit Friday night, a 2-year-old girl is one of the three residents there who were killed, her family and the Humphreys County coroner told ABC News on Sunday. Several other residents remain in critical condition, the coroner said.

The tornadoes that hit Mississippi were among 10 twisters that developed on Friday, including a pair of EF-2 funnel clouds in Alabama that killed a person in Hartselle in Morgan County.

Another EF-2 twister hit near Fayetteville, Tennessee, and churned on the ground for four miles in just six minutes, officials said. The tornado damaged the roofs of several homes and businesses, snapped trees and power poles, destroyed a large shed and ripped the reinforced roof off of the horse stalls at the local fairgrounds. The tornado also caused a large horse trailer to roll about 80 yards and picked up several cars and slammed them to the ground, officials said.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who submitted the disaster declaration, said on Saturday that the "scale of the damage and loss is evident everywhere affected today."

"Homes, businesses ... entire communities. Respond, Recover, Rebuild together," he said on Twitter. "That is the mission."

Criswell said that while tornado warnings were activated and sirens in some towns alerted residents of the coming disaster, not everyone received or heeded the alerts.

"In some of these communities, they are certainly some of the poorest communities in the state. And we know that we're going to have to bring the full force of the federal family in there to come help them," Criswell said.

In the interview with Criswell on "This Week," Raddatz noted that up to 35% of Mississippi residents in the area where the massive tornado struck, live below the poverty line and may not have cell phones to receive alerts.

"I think it's something that we have to ... continually look at what we can do to better inform people," Criswell said. "We know that there are sirens. I know that some sirens did go off. I don't have, the exact picture of where they went off. But sirens are one of the best tools that we do have to give a widespread warning to people quickly, especially when you have nocturnal tornadoes like this that happen while people are asleep."

The latest forecast

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows the same storm system will linger in the Southeast on Monday with damaging winds, large hail, and an isolated tornado threat. Parts of southern Georgia and South Carolina will be in the bullseye, including the cities of Columbus, Savannah and Charleston. Flood watches and warnings have been issued for areas of Alabama and Georgia.

A tornado watch for central Georgia, including the city of Macon, remains in effect until 11 a.m. ET on Monday. Moreover, a flood watch and a flash flood warning were issued for parts of Alabama and Georgia, where up to 7 inches of rain already fell.

A new storm is set to arrive on the West Coast on Monday night, bringing heavy rain and wind along the shore and heavy snow to the mountains. The heavy rain is expected to reach the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday morning, but gusty winds will begin Monday. Parts of northern California could see local rainfall amounts of 2 to 5 inches.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in northern California, where local snowfall amounts of 2 to 4 feet is possible over the coming days.

This new storm system is forecast to sweep across the country, brining more severe weather to Texas and Oklahoma on Thursday. Areas from Texas to Wisconsin could see a major outbreak of severe weather on Friday, with threats of tornadoes, damaging winds and huge hail.

Meanwhile, a late season winter storm could hit areas further north, from the Dakotas to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

ABC Owned TV Stations contributed to this report.

The video in the player above is from an earlier report.