With at least 25 people dead in Mississippi, tornadoes that ravaged parts of the Deep South overnight were the deadliest in the state in more than a decade, according to National Weather Service records.
Mississippians were devastated. One meteorologist in Tupelo went viral for stopping to pray on air while covering the tornado’s impact on nearby Amory.
“A strong tornado here, just east of Amory,” meteorologist Matt Laubhan said on WTVA Tupelo. “I would say the western streets of Amory are just a few minutes away. This is a strong, life-threatening tornado that’s going to move either extremely close to Amory, or in through the northern part of the city of Amory.”
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“We’ve got a new scan coming in here as we speak. Oh, man!” he said, while bowing his head. “North side of Amory, this is coming in. Oh, man. Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen.”
Laubhan also urged all nearby residents to seek shelter, regardless of the forecast.
“Y’all trust me too much,” he said. “The reality is that this could be changing directions. So, Amory, we need to be in our tornado-safe place.”
Take a look —
I don't think I've *ever* heard a meteorologist say a little prayer or "oh man" on air. #mswx
Amory, Mississippi is southwest of Tupelo, and about 15 miles west of the Mississippi/Alabama state line. pic.twitter.com/lUbfRZNqag
— Eddie Sigala 💉👌🏼🥰🇺🇦🇺🇸 (@eduardokenya) March 25, 2023
Laubhan wasn’t the only one praying for the tornado survivors.
Friday’s storm flattened entire town blocks, but the first Sunday after the twister commenced just like any other Sunday — with congregants reaffirming their faith and finding solace together.
“We are a very religious community,” said Laura Allmon, a fourth-generation congregant. “It just means a lot for us to be able to get together and pray and be thankful for what we have.”
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Their homes rendered unlivable, many Rolling Fork residents flocked Sunday to the network of churches dotting the landscape. It is a close-knit farming community bound by intergenerational ties of family and faith that form the social fabric of this rural Southern town of about 2,000.
Wayne Williams, 55, teaches construction skills at a vocational center. He was working with others Sunday to clean up some relatively minor damage at the Rolling Fork Methodist Church. Across the street, a large metal building that had been a community center was ripped apart by the tornado.
“It’s going to be a long road to recovery, to rebuild and get over all the devastation,” Williams said of his community. “With God in the mix, we will recover.”
Since the church building was without power Sunday morning, roughly two dozen worshipers gathered on its historic steps and bowed their heads while Rev. Mary Stewart delivered a short sermon.
“We’re grateful, Lord, that you brought us through this storm,” she said, standing in sunshine beneath a clear blue sky. “We have a lot to do and a lot of rebuilding, and there are people that we’ve lost in our town. … We pray for their families.”
Based on early data, the tornado received a preliminary EF-4 rating, with top wind gusts between 166 mph and 200 mph (265 kph and 320 kph), according to the National Weather Service office in Jackson. Officials said the twister was on the ground for more than an hour.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency and vowed to help rebuild as he viewed the damage in the region, which boasts 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.
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Elsewhere, President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi early Sunday, making federal funding available to the hardest hit areas, and the White Hosue also expressed his prayers for the tornado survivors.
“Jill and I are praying for those who have lost loved ones in the devastating tornadoes in Mississippi and for those whose loved ones are missing,” Biden said in a statement.
More than a half-dozen shelters were opened in Mississippi to house displaced residents.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.