YAZOO CITY, Miss. – Tornadoes ripped through four states in the South on Saturday, leaving broken crosses in front of a flattened church, splintering houses and overturning vehicles as they killed 10 people, including three children.
One of the hardest hit areas was Mississippi’s Yazoo County, where Gov. Haley Barbour grew up. He described “utter obliteration” among the picturesque hills rising abruptly from the flat Mississippi Delta.
More than 15 other counties in Mississippi also had damage. The swath of debris forced rescuers to pick up some of the injured on all-terrain vehicles in 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, Malcolm Gordon, 63, stood with members of his family 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 in the neighborhood of modest houses and mobile homes surrounded by hills and ravines.
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.
Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt, who pitched on Friday, was returning to Mississippi after a tornado damaged his parents’ home in Weir, Miss.
The severe weather started 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. A small nitrogen leak was reported but didn’t cause any problems.
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 Choctaw County were going house-to-house in the areas with the worst damage to check for any injured.
Meteorologists said it was too soon to tell whether a single long-lasting tornado – or multiple shorter ones – caused the death and damage in the different cities.
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 of the town.
“Sad, man,” said 22-year-old Rafael Scott, shaking his head. “It’s really hard to believe it.”