As residents of the small tight-knit Mississippi community of Silver City try to comb together shattered pieces of their homes shredded as at least 10 confirmed tornadoes struck the state, Alabama and Tennessee over the weekend, they are also coming to grips with the loss of a beloved member of their community.
Robert Lee died while protecting his wife from a falling beam on Friday night. The couple was sheltering in their bathroom when winds from a tornado-spawning storm ripped off the bottom of a trailer home about 50 yards away and cut through the home straight into the bathroom “like a boomerang,” WAPT reports.
Lee’s wife survived but is still hospitalized after undergoing surgery. Everyone in the community knew Lee, according to Humphreys County Circuit Clerk Timaka James-Jones and are shocked by his sudden death.
“Kind person, very bubbly spirit, always outgoing, wonderful teacher, outdoorsman, and just all around great person,” she said.
Lee is among 26 people who reportedly died in the South as the violent storms wreaked havoc in the region, razing homes and leaving thousands without electricity.
Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Sunday morning in Georgia, where two tigers escaped after a tornado ripped through a zoo.
President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration that same day for parts of Mississippi.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported 2,000 homes in Mississippi were damaged or destroyed. The declaration green lights funding to Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, and Sharkey counties.
The small number of homes left standing in the mostly Black Mississippi Delta community of Rolling Fork, in Sharkey County, are roofless, aerial footage of the city shows. It was the birthplace of blues legend Muddy Waters, and though rich with culture reflects the economic state of most of the state.
“It was the worst thing I have ever been through,” Rolling Fork resident Mike Barlow told The New York Times.
Nearly a third of Rolling Fork’s 1,883 residents live in poverty, U.S. Census data shows. The median household income is $38,558.
Now fragments of hundreds of homes and commercial buildings are scattered like puzzle pieces across the mile and quarter stretch of land.
Trees were ransacked of their branches. Some were uprooted, while others lay broken and bare after the small area endured gusts of 170 mph.
“The idea of cleaning up, building back, trying to get back in business could be a real problem,” former Rolling Fork mayor Fred Miller told The New York Times. “And in a small community like ours, you know, somebody may just throw up their hands and say, ‘I can’t do it.’ Those are things that we just have to wait on.”
The White House said the federal assistance “can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.”
Officials said at least 18 people died in Rolling Fork because of the storm. Search-and-rescue efforts continue in the city.
Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker is still optimistic about its future.
“The city of Rolling Fork will come back — bigger and better than ever before,” Walker said at a press conference Sunday.
Dede Duren in Summerfield, Mississippi, left her mobile home on Friday night to assess the damage after the storm and find out that three of her relatives had been killed by the natural disaster that roared through the area.
“I was in our mobile home with my mom, my stepfather and my two daughters and we had just finished eating dinner and our lights started flickering,” Duren told the Clarion Ledger. “And then it just went out. As I went to light the candle, my oldest daughter screamed, ‘We got to take cover.’ She grabbed her younger sister, and we all went into our bathroom.”
The violent winds knocked the mobile home off its foundation and ripped it apart. Duren said the force “rocked” the home back and forth “like you’d rock a sleeping baby.”
Duren’s cousin Helen Munford, 54, her husband Danny Munford, 51, and son JaDarrion Murphy, 14, were found in different areas of the mobile home park four hours later. Helen, a school teacher, and Danny, a construction worker, leave behind six children, including JaDarrion’s twin brother LaDarrion, who had to be hospitalized.
“Mrs. Munford was loved by everybody,” Duren said. “But this family is going to have to stick together. We’re just left with the memories of them that we’ll have to take with us and try to live day-by-day like she’d want us to do.”
A “large and extremely dangerous tornado” struck south of LaGrange, Georgia, Sunday morning, according to reports. At least three people were reported injured in the city 60 miles southwest of Atlanta.
Two tigers that were unaccounted for early Sunday were recaptured and returned to captivity at the Pine Mountain Animal Safari in middle Georgia after the park sustained “extensive damage” from the storm.
The National Weather Service confirmed four tornadoes in Alabama and southern Tennessee late Friday and early Saturday.
Severe storms continued on Sunday with hail reported in Alabama.
On Saturday, a 67-year-old man was killed after being trapped under a flipped-over trailer in Hartselle, Alabama.
Most of the damage in the area was caused by trees falling on homes, driveways, roadways and power lines, according to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office.