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Tornado Slams Mississippi

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    People worship on the steps of the Rolling Fork United Methodist Church on March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. (AP/Julio Cortez)


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A massive tornado hit parts of Mississippi and sent high winds spiraling in surrounding states on Friday. The storm flattened entire blocks of Rolling Fork, a rural Southern town of about 2,000. Now residents must come together to rebuild.

About 15 miles from Rolling Fork, Friday’s twister demolished Kimberly Berry’s one-story home in Mississippi. It left only a foundation and some random belongings—a toppled refrigerator, a dresser and matching nightstand, a bag of Christmas decorations, and some clothing.

During the storm, Berry and her 12-year-old daughter huddled and prayed at a barely damaged church nearby. In hard-hit Rolling Fork, her 25-year-old daughter survived.

Berry works as a supervisor at a catfish growing and processing operation. She’s grateful she and her children are still alive. “I can get all this back. It’s nothing,” she says.

At least 25 people died and dozens were injured as the storm ripped through one of the poorest regions in the country. A man died in neighboring Alabama after his trailer home flipped several times.

Their homes unlivable, many Rolling Fork residents flocked to the network of churches dotting the landscape.

Rolling Fork Methodist Church withstood the high winds. On Sunday, congregants reaffirmed their faith and found solace together. Since the church building was without power, roughly two dozen worshipers gathered on its historic steps for a short sermon.

Laura Allmon, a fourth-generation congregant, says, “It just means a lot for us to be able to get together and pray and be thankful for what we have.”

Founded nearly 135 years ago, Rolling Fork Methodist has long been a source of support and resilience in hard times, its members say.

“So many people here know patience from farm work,” Mary Stewart told people gathered on the steps of Rolling Fork Methodist. “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.”

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi early Sunday. The act made federal funding available to the hardest hit areas.

Based on early data, the tornado received a preliminary EF-4 rating. Top wind gusts blasted between 166 and 200 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. Officials say the powerful twister stayed on the ground for more than an hour.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency on Saturday. He vowed to help rebuild as he viewed the damage in the region with its wide expanses of cotton, corn, and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds.

Wayne Williams teaches construction skills at a vocational center. He worked with others to clean up some minor damage at the church in Rolling Fork. Across the street, a large metal building used as a community center had been ripped apart by the tornado.

“It’s going to be a long road to recovery, to rebuild and get over all the devastation,” Williams says of his community. Then he adds, “With God in the mix, we will recover.”

(People worship on the steps of the Rolling Fork United Methodist Church on March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. AP/Julio Cortez)