Searching begins in Yazoo City

Residents can be seen sifting through debris in a destroyed home near Yazoo City, Miss. after a tornado passed through the area Saturday. (AP Photo/Will Smith)

YAZOO CITY — Rescuers stood ready Sunday to comb neighborhoods of splintered homes and twisted debris in Mississippi, a day after a devastating tornado sliced through the state and killed 10 people, including three children.James Jackson, a deputy state fire marshal, said crews took a break overnight but were organizing at first daylight to resume search and rescue operations. All was still Sunday morning in one of the hardest hit areas of Yazoo City, except for the National Guard soldiers who blocked the roads and the occasional emergency vehicle.The high winds on Saturday tore roofs off buildings in hard-hit Yazoo County, where Gov. Haley Barbour grew up. He described “utter obliteration” among the picturesque hills rising from the flat Mississippi Delta. Heavy thunderstorms also swept across north Alabama, Georgia and other states early Sunday, downing trees and unleashing scattered hail.

Meteorologists said it was too soon to tell whether a single long-lasting tornado – or multiple shorter ones – caused the arc of death and damage in far-flung Mississippi communities.

Yazoo County’s coroner, Ricky Shivers, was in his own truck when the winds flipped the vehicle four times. Shivers went to the hospital to have bruised ribs and cuts treated, then went out to help identify bodies in his hospital gown. He told The Associated Press by phone Sunday morning that he did not know whether any more people had died because he was back in the hospital have his wounds tended to.

Many other residents told stories of unlikely survival amid the destruction.

“The roof was caving in, TVs flying off the shelves and it was horrible,” said Mitchell Saxton, the owner of Ribeye’s Steak House in Yazoo City.

Those with him in the restaurant ran into a walk-in freezer to safety when they saw the tornado. Saxton’s restaurant was destroyed but no one was hurt there.

“We got in the walk-in freezer, sat in there for about 10 minutes,” Saxton said. “When I came out it was really bad. Just thanking the good Lord I’m here and able to talk with you all.”

Tornadoes were also reported in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama, and the severe weather continued to track northeastward early Sunday as gusty winds also downed trees crossing northwest Georgia.

In Yazoo City, Malcolm Gordon, 63, stood with family members peering out at the neighborhood through a broken window.

Above them, the roof was gone, a tree lay across part of the house and power lines stretched across the yard. The smell of shredded pine trees hung in the warm breeze amid modest houses and mobile homes.

Gordon and his wife, Diane, hid in a closet while much of the neighborhood was blown away.

“I’ll just bulldoze what’s left and start over,” he said.

Essie Hendrix, manager of Peebles department store in Yazoo City, said she and other employees were inside with about 15 customers when the tornado struck. An assistant manager took the customers to the back of the store, and Hendrix saw the tornado barreling through the parking lot.

“It was like a rumbling and a roaring and stuff was falling,” Hendrix said. “It sounded like it was going to suck us out of there. It lasted about two minutes, but it felt like it lasted an hour.”

No one in the store was injured, about 100 yards away from the steakhouse that was destroyed.

The severe weather began in Louisiana, just across the state line from Mississippi when a tornado destroyed 12 homes and warehouses at Complex Chemical Co., which makes antifreeze and other automotive fluids, owner Jerry Melton said.

The storm system moved east, with the twister hitting nearby Yazoo County, Miss., killing four people. In adjacent Holmes County, another person was killed. A little farther northeast, a tornado hit Choctaw County, where another five victims were reported, including children ages 3 months, 9 and 14.

Authorities in Choctow County were going house-to-house in the areas with the worst damage to check for any injured.

In Yazoo City, stunned residents stood on a hill overlooking the destruction. A National Guard helicopter sat nearby, and later took the governor on an aerial tour.

“Sad, man,” said 22-year-old Rafael Scott, shaking his head. “It’s really hard to believe.”

Three broken crosses stood near a flattened church. A nearby funeral home was reduced to rubble. In a patch of woods, pieces of tin were twisted high up in the broken trees.

Thousands across the state were without electricity, and downed power lines and trees blocked roads. At least four people had been brought by four-wheeler to a triage center at an old discount store parking lot, Yazoo City Mayor McArthur Straughter said as sirens whined in the background.

Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response ambulance service, said four patients from Yazoo County were airlifted and some 20 others were taken to hospitals. At least four people were in critical condition.

YAZOO CITY — Tornadoes ripped through the Southeast on Saturday, killing 10 people in Mississippi and injuring more than a dozen others. Roofs were torn off businesses, homes were splintered, vehicles were overturned and roads were blocked by toppled trees.

Gov. Haley Barbour told The Associated Press there was “utter obliteration” in parts of Yazoo County, an area known for cotton, catfish, blues music and picturesque hills rising abruptly from the flat Mississippi Delta.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said five people were killed in Choctaw County, including two children. Four victims were in Yazoo County and one was in Holmes County.

More than 15 other counties were also damaged. The swath of debris forced rescuers to pick up some of the injured on all-terrain vehicles the west-central part of the state.

Tornadoes were also reported in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama, and the severe weather continued to track eastward.

In Yazoo City about 40 miles north of Jackson, Malcolm Gordon, 63, stood with members of his family peering through a broken window. Above them, the roof was gone, a tree lay across part of the house and power lines stretched across the yard in a neighborhood made up of modest houses and mobile homes on a street that winds around hills and ravines. The smell of shredded pine trees hung the warm breeze.

Gordon looked around at the devastation. “It sounded like a train coming down that road,” he said.

Gordon and his wife, Diane, hid in a closet while much of the neighborhood was blown away.

“I’ll just bulldoze what’s left and start over,” he said.

Elsewhere, stunned residents stood on a hill overlooking the destruction. A National Guard helicopter sat nearby, and later took the governor on an aerial tour of the town he grew up in.

“Sad, man,” said 22-year-old Rafael Scott, shaking his head. “It’s really hard to believe it. I heard they found a couple of bodies.”

Three broken crosses stood near a flattened church, and religious materials were scattered among twisted steel, broken wood and furniture. A nearby funeral home was reduced to rubble. In a patch of woods, pieces of tin were twisted high up in the broken trees.

Josh Nicholson, 26, was driving home through the storm with his wife, 1-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter when a power line fell across the road in front their sport utility vehicle.

“There was nowhere we could go,” he said.

Nicholson and his wife took the children out of their car seats and they all huddled in the back of the vehicle. All of the sudden, Nicholson said, the vehicle spun around and a tree clipped part of the truck where the 3-year-old had been sitting. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

“It was scary,” Nicholson said.

Thousands across the state were without electricity, and downed power lines and trees blocked roads. At least four people had been brought by four-wheeler to a triage center at an old discount store parking lot, Yazoo City Mayor McArthur Straughter said as sirens whined in the background.

Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response ambulance service, said four patients from Yazoo County were airlifted and some 17 others were taken to hospitals. At least four people were in critical condition.

Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt, who pitched on Friday, was returning to Mississippi after a tornado damaged his parents’ home in Weir, farther west of Yazoo County.

Willie M. Horton, 78, said he hunkered down in the hallway of his house in Holmes County, which borders Yazoo. “Everything is down. A lot of trees. Big trees,” Horton said.

He said his sister-in-law’s house nearby was damaged, and a nephew’s mobile home was carried away by the storm.

“My cousin – half his barn is gone,” Horton said.

The severe weather darkened skies and dumped rain on the region, much of which was under a tornado watch or warning at some point during the day.

The weather hampered crews trying to clean up an oil spill after an offshore rig exploded earlier this week off the coast of Louisiana. Several sporting events and festivals also were rescheduled.

In northeast Louisiana, several people had minor injuries. The storms also damaged a tank at a chemical plant in Tallulah, causing a small nitrogen leak.

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One Response to “Searching begins in Yazoo City”

  1. Remembering Samantha Smith: The Youngest Peace Ambassador « Symon Sez Says:

    [...] Yazoo City, MS  and then acrosss I-55.  Here is a gallery of AP Photos from Yazoo City.   At least ten were killed.  From the damage I saw and the tree damage (some may have been denuded of their bark), my guess [...]

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