Mississippi Tornadoes Kill 23, Injure Dozens Overnight

Piles of debris, insulation, damaged vehicles and home furnishings are all that remain of was a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)
Piles of debris, insulation, damaged vehicles and home furnishings are all that remain of was a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)
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Mississippi Tornadoes Kill 23, Injure Dozens Overnight

Piles of debris, insulation, damaged vehicles and home furnishings are all that remain of was a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)
Piles of debris, insulation, damaged vehicles and home furnishings are all that remain of was a mobile home park in Rolling Fork, Miss., Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)

Powerful tornadoes tore through parts of the Deep South on Friday night, killing at least 23 people in Mississippi, obliterating dozens of buildings and leaving an especially devastating mark on a rural town whose mayor declared, "My city is gone."

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said in a Twitter post that search and rescue teams from local and state agencies were deployed to help victims impacted by the tornadoes. The agency confirmed early Saturday that 23 people had died, four were missing and dozens were injured.

A few minutes later, the agency warned the casualty toll could go higher, tweeting: "Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change."

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted Saturday that he was on his way to Sharkey County, whose county seat of Rolling Folk was flattened. "Devastating damage — as everyone knows. This is a tragedy."

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado caused damage about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork reported destruction as the tornado swept northeast at 70 mph (113 kph) without weakening, racing towards Alabama through towns, including Winona and Amory, into the night.

Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told CNN that his town was essentially wiped out. Video shot as daylight broke showed houses reduced to piles of rubble, cars flipped on their sides and trees stripped of their branches. Occasionally, in the midst of the wreckage, a home would be spared, seemingly undamaged.

"My city is gone. But we are resilient and we are going to come back strong," he said.

The National Weather Service issued an alert Friday night as the storm was hitting that didn't mince words: "To protect your life, TAKE COVER NOW!"

"You are in a life-threatening situation," it warned. "Flying debris may be deadly to those caught without shelter. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Considerable damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles is likely and complete destruction is possible."

Cornel Knight told The Associated Press that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck. He said the sky was dark but "you could see the direction from every transformer that blew."

He said it was "eerily quiet" as that happened. Knight said he watched from a doorway until the tornado was, he estimated, less than a mile away. Then he told everyone in the house to take cover in a hallway.

He said the tornado struck another relative’s home across a wide corn field from where he was. A wall in that home collapsed and trapped several people inside. As Knight spoke to AP by phone, he said he could see lights from emergency vehicles at the partially collapsed home.

The tornado looked so powerful on radar as it neared the town of Amory, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Tupelo, that one Mississippi meteorologist paused to say a prayer after new radar information came in.

The damage in Rolling Fork was so widespread that several storm chasers — who follow severe weather and often put up livestreams showing dramatic funnel clouds — pleaded for search and rescue help. Others abandoned the chase to drive injured people to the hospitals themselves.

The Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork was damaged, WAPT reported.

The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork reported gas leaks and people trapped in piles of rubble, according to the Vicksburg News. Some law enforcement units were unaccounted for in Sharkey, according to the newspaper.

According to poweroutage.us, 40,000 customers were without power in Tennessee; 15,000 customers were left without power in Mississippi; and 20,000 were without power in Alabama.

Rolling Fork and the surrounding area has wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. More than a half-dozen shelters were opened in the state by emergency officials.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a Twitter post Friday night that search and rescue teams were active and that officials were sending in more ambulances and emergency assets.

"Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight," the post said. "Watch weather reports and stay cautious through the night, Mississippi!"

This was a supercell, the nasty type of storm that brews the deadliest tornado and most damaging hail in the United States, said University of Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. What’s more, this was a nighttime one which is "the worst kind," he said.

Meteorologists saw a big tornado risk coming for the general region, not the specific area, as much as a week in advance, said Ashley, who was discussing it with his colleagues as early as March 17. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center put out a long-range alert for the area on March 19, he said.

Tornado experts like Ashley have been warning about increased risk exposure in the region because of people building more.

"You mix a particularly socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado, and disaster will happen," Ashley said in an email.

Earlier Friday, torrential rainfall in Missouri caused flooding that was blamed for the deaths of two people who were in a car that was swept away by high water. Another person was missing in another Missouri county hit by flash floods.



Biden Pushes His ‘Blue Wall’ Sprint with a Michigan Trip as He Makes the Case for His Candidacy

 President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Garage Grill & Fuel Bar in Northville, Mich., Friday July 12, 2024. (AP)
President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Garage Grill & Fuel Bar in Northville, Mich., Friday July 12, 2024. (AP)
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Biden Pushes His ‘Blue Wall’ Sprint with a Michigan Trip as He Makes the Case for His Candidacy

 President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Garage Grill & Fuel Bar in Northville, Mich., Friday July 12, 2024. (AP)
President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Garage Grill & Fuel Bar in Northville, Mich., Friday July 12, 2024. (AP)

Four years ago, candidate Joe Biden stood before supporters at a Detroit high school, flanked by Kamala Harris and other rising Democratic stars, and called himself a bridge to the next generation of leaders.

Biden, now a president seeking reelection, returns to that same high school Friday with many in his party now pleading for him to fulfill that very promise and step aside. But Biden remains defiant that he'll remain in the race despite a disastrous debate performance that triggered a wave of calls for him to end his candidacy.

During a news conference Thursday, when asked why he no longer considered himself a “bridge” to the next generation of leaders, Biden responded that “what changed was the gravity of the situation I inherited in terms of the economy, foreign policy, and domestic division."

“We've never been here before,” Biden continued. “And that's the other reason why I didn't, you say, hand off to another generation. I gotta finish the job.”

In the two weeks since his debate debacle, Biden and his team have been on a relentless sprint to convince fretting lawmakers, nervous donors and a skeptical electorate that at the age of 81, he is still capable of being president. But a spate of travel to battleground states, interviews with journalists and a rare solo news conference have done little to tamp down the angst within the party about Biden's candidacy and his prospects against Donald Trump in November.

So far, one Democratic senator and roughly 20 House Democrats have publicly called on Biden to step aside. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has indicated Biden still has a decision to make on whether to run, even though the president has made it clear he remains in the race.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries met privately with Biden after the press conference, sharing the “full breadth” of views from the House Democrats about the path forward in the president’s campaign for reelection, he said in a letter to colleagues.

Biden spent the hours before he left for Michigan meeting separately with Asian American and Latino lawmakers, although with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the president was told directly by California Rep. Mike Levin that he should step down as the Democratic nominee, according to three people familiar with that call who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

Still, Biden advisers and aides, largely satisfied with the president's press conference performance Thursday at the conclusion of the NATO summit, are more forcefully urging the reticent factions of the party to move on from the Atlanta debate.

Michael Tyler, a spokesperson for Biden’s campaign, said donations “exploded” Thursday night during the president’s news conference, describing it as a sign that support for the president remains strong “across our coalition.”

“We have close to 40,000 donations last night alone,” Tyler told reporters traveling to Detroit with Biden. He said the donations came in at a clip that was seven times the average.

And South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of the president's most influential allies, said in an NBC interview Friday morning that chatter about whether Biden should stay in the race needs to stop.

“The conversation should focus on the record of this administration, on the alternative to his election, and let Joe Biden continue to make his own decisions about his future,” Clyburn said. “He's earned that right. And I'm going to give him that much respect.”

Biden's campaign has indirectly acknowledged that Biden's route to the White House is narrowing, saying the so-called “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is now the “clearest pathway” to victory even while insisting other battleground states like Arizona and Nevada are not out of reach.

That strategy is reflected in how Biden is redoubling his efforts in the Midwestern states, hitting Detroit nearly one week after he campaigned in Madison, Wisconsin; Philadelphia; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Rallying enthusiasm in Detroit and among its sizable Black population could prove decisive for Biden’s chances of winning Michigan, which Biden reclaimed in 2020 after Donald Trump won it in four years prior by just over 10,000 votes.

Before his campaign rally at Detroit’s Renaissance High School, Biden stopped by a local restaurant to speak to a few dozen supporters. And later, he planned to speak about the “Project 2025” agenda, a massive proposed overhaul of the federal government drafted by longtime allies and former officials in the Trump administration.

Trump insists he knows “nothing” about Project 2025, but Biden plans to say it is “run and paid for by Trump people” and it was “built” for the presumptive GOP nominee.

“Folks, Project 2025 is the biggest attack on our system of government and on our personal freedom that has ever been proposed in the history of this country,” Biden will say, according to excerpts released by the campaign. "It’s time for us to stop treating politics like it's entertainment or a reality TV show.

But at a critical juncture when Biden needs to consolidate support, key Democratic leaders in the state will notably be absent at Friday's event.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is co-chair of Biden’s campaign, will be out of the state. Sen. Gary Peters, a steadfast supporter of Biden, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is vying for Michigan’s open Senate seat, will also be absent from the event. United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, whom Biden actively courted during last year’s strikes and who met with him and other union leaders Wednesday, is traveling for a conference.

Rep. Hillary Scholten, who is seeking reelection in a battleground district in western Michigan, joined a growing list of national Democrats who have called on Biden to step aside.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, one of the more prominent Democratic leaders appearing with Biden on Friday, refused to say whether she believed Biden should still be the party’s presidential nominee.

“I’m just focused on making sure people know what’s at stake this year. And know how to exercise their vote,” Benson said when asked whether she still believed he should be the nominee.

But in a swing state that he won by close to 3 percentage points in 2020, Biden continues to command support. Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Haley Stevens, Rep. Shri Thanedar and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler accompanied Biden on Air Force One from Washington to Detroit, in Biden's fourth trip to the state this year. Also planning on attending is Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer. And over a dozen Detroit-area state lawmakers signed onto a joint letter Thursday “to express our unwavering support" for Biden.

As she waited for Biden to arrive at the evening rally, Donna Harper, 71, said she was disappointed by his debate performance, but encouraged by his Thursday press conference.

“Let him just be Joe,” she said. “And I saw more of that last night.”

In his return to Michigan, Biden aims to reignite the energy felt in March 2020 when appearing at Detroit's Renaissance High School. During that appearance, Biden had locked hands with Harris, Whitmer and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

“I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” Biden said. “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.”

In 2016, Trump won Michigan by a thin margin attributed in part to reduced turnout in predominantly Black areas like Detroit’s Wayne County, where Hillary Clinton received far fewer votes than Barack Obama did in previous elections.

Biden reclaimed much of that support four years ago, when he defeated Trump in Michigan by a 154,000-vote margin, but he has work to do. Detroit, which holds a population that is nearly 78% Black, saw a 12% turnout in the Feb. 27 primary, almost half that of the 23% total turnout in the state.

Key parts of Biden’s coalition in Michigan are also upset with him over Israel’s offensive following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Michigan holds the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, contributing to over 100,000 people voting “Uncommitted” in Michigan’s Democratic primary in February.