Residents in Mississippi are barely beginning to recover after a deadly tornado carved a vast path of destruction there Friday night. The massive storm took the lives of at least 25 people and injured dozens more.
The National Weather Service gave the monster tornado a preliminary EF-4 rating. That means it potentially had wind gusts up to 200 miles per hour.
The tornado lasted more than an hour and left behind a 170-mile path of destruction in Mississippi.
One meteorologist at a local station offered up a spontaneous prayer on air as he saw the tornado was heading straight for a populated area, saying, "Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen."
WATCH: WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan overwhelmed as major tornado hits Amory, Mississippi pic.twitter.com/JDd8n46X31
— BNO News Live (@BNODesk) March 25, 2023
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports at least 25 people died in Mississippi, 55 people were injured and 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
"I'm looking around town, and I'm saying, 'I know we can rebuild, but what do you do with the devastation, what do you do with all this here?'" asked tornado victim Ezell Williams, overcome by emotion. "I'm glad I'm by myself."
Ezell Williams cries while talking about the tornado damage caused to his properties and those of his neighbors, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
"It just hit quickly. Came out of the south, southeast. And by the time it got down on the ground, it got bigger and bigger, as you can see by the path," explained Eldridge Walker, the mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi.
The monster tornado leveled most of Rolling Fork.
"I'm not only just the mayor of this community, but I've lost personal friends," shared Walker. "I'm also the local funeral director. Now I'm having to meet my families, those who have lost loved ones and help them make it through this traumatic time."
Law-enforcement officers climb through debris on a diner looking for survivors early Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Rolling Fork, Miss. No one was found. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)
Jessica Davis says she was on the phone with her mother Wanda when the tornado hit Rolling Fork. She says her mother drove to a local store for shelter. Tragically, she never made it out alive.
"I'm hurt. Nothing but hurt 'cause everyone lost something, whether it was a loved one, home. Everyone lost something," Davis said.
'God Is in Control'
Yet, in spite of the tragedy and the huge task of moving forward and rebuilding from this disaster, many residents took time Sunday morning to go to church. The Rolling Fork United Methodist Church held a service on its steps.
"I'm grateful that we can spend this time together on the Lord's day, on Sunday, and thank him for bringing us through the storm," said the church's pastor, Mary Stewart.
Churchgoers sit and pray on the steps of the Rolling Fork United Methodist Church while worshiping, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
"So many people here know patience from farm work," Stewart said. "With their dependence on the rain for their crops — their livelihood — and having to leave it in God's hands … it's a wonderful reaffirmation that God is in control."
'Miracles': Family Tells How God's Perfect Timing Spared Their Lives
Marlon Nicholas, a congregant of First Baptist Church in Rolling Fork, said God miraculously spared his family. They had been attending a local high school prom Friday night, and that kept them safe even as their home was destroyed. He said other relatives also lost their homes but escaped without serious injuries.
"Miracles," he said.
The mayor also shared words of faith at a news conference. "This is the Bible belt. And we were all taught that a family that prays together stays together," said Walker. "This is a family, a family of unity, a family of strength."
"And this is what we need to make this community come back once again," he continued.
Wayne Williams, 55, teaches construction skills at a vocational center. "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."
Disaster Relief Effort
President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi early Sunday. That makes federal funding available to the hardest hit areas, and relief teams are beginning to arrive and help the storm victims.
Operation Blessing assessment teams are on the ground identifying needs and building partnerships to send in relief.
Today, the ministry is sending a shipment of bottled water, emergency meal kits and Home Depot buckets of cleanup supplies to Bethel Church in Amory, Mississippi.
When #disaster strikes, we are ready to respond because of partners JUST LIKE YOU! When you give, you help #victims of disasters like Friday night's deadly #tornado in #Mississippi. With YOUR help, we can be there when they need us most.https://t.co/gY22PP8dTs#DisasterRelief pic.twitter.com/5g2AOCZSIu
— Operation Blessing (@operationbless) March 26, 2023
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