'Leveled': Responders, residents describe horror of Mississippi tornado destruction

First responders described Rolling Fork as "completely devastated."

March 25, 2023, 4:25 PM

As a deadly tornado barreled toward Winona, Mississippi, late on Friday, one local family scrambled for safety inside their home.

"Obviously it was coming right behind us because as soon as we got in there, we heard a big boom and didn't hear anything else for a little while," a local man told ABC News affiliate WTVA.

He added, "So we walked out and then just came out to about 10 trees down in our yard."

Piles of debris, insulation, damaged vehicles and home furnishings are all that remain of was a mobile home park following a tornado in Rolling Fork, Miss., Mar. 25, 2023.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Emergency rescuers and first responders climb through a tornado demolished mobile home park, Mar. 25, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

The strong and deadly tornado cut eastward across the state, destroying homes and ruining infrastructure. It touched down in cities 100 miles apart within about an hour. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said at least 25 people were dead. One man died in Alabama.

First responders on Saturday morning searched through the destruction, looking for victims. The United Cajun Navy President Todd Terrell said the town of "Rolling Fork is leveled. It's pretty much devastated."

In an interview with "GMA" on Saturday, Edgar O'Neal, a storm chaser who was on the ground in Rolling Fork, described the scene as "complete and utter devastation."

"Houses gone. Gas stations destroyed. Trees, power lines blocking entrances everywhere," he said. "Stray animals, people wandering the streets clearly in shock. Lots of people out there in the community helping."

A resident looks through the piles of debris, insulation, and home furnishings to see if anything is salvageable at a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., Mar. 25, 2023.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
A truck sits on a building after a tornado the previous evening, Mar. 25, 2023 in Rolling Fork, Miss.
Wesley Jackson

One Rolling Fork resident told WAPT that residents lost a lot more than their homes.

"I thought I was dead," Rolling Fork resident Shanta Howard said.

"We had to help dead bodies out of the house, so that is very disturbing," Howard said. "Actually seeing people losing their lives over a weather incident."

Yazoo County Coroner Ricky Shivers, who is leading the response team of six corners in Rolling Fork, told ABC News he is anticipating a "really severe" death toll.

"It's going to be catastrophic," he said.

Residents of Winona, Mississippi, take stock of the March 24, 2023, tornado damage in a still from a video shot by ABC News affiliate WTVA.

When asked about the damage to the town, his response was two words: "Completely devastated." He said his team of six corners "will be prepared to get in high gear at daylight."

The strength of the tornado, as well as its path, created a devastating result, he said.

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