At least six people were dead after severe weather sweeping across the South raked parts of Mississippi on Sunday, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency.
“This is not how anyone wants to celebrate Easter Sunday,” Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said in a statement. “As we reflect on the death and resurrection on this Easter Sunday, we have faith that we will all rise together.”
The National Weather Service in Jackson received several reports of tornadoes in the area, and at least two of them prompted “tornado emergency” warnings, which are issued only for “dangerous tornadoes that could produce catastrophic damage,” said John Moore III, a meteorologist with the service.
Officials will not know the tornadoes’ exact paths or strengths until teams can be sent to survey the damage in the coming days, but radar did pick up a clue: debris lift.
“That’s how we’re able to tell that the tornadoes were actually on the ground,” Moore said. “We could see on radar it was lifting debris up into the atmosphere, some even 5,000 feet.”
Images posted on social media showed destroyed structures and lawns covered in debris.
The tornadoes were produced by severe thunderstorms, Moore said, noting that more of these thunderstorms were moving through the same area and could produce additional tornadoes.
“April is our primary severe weather season for Mississippi,” he said. These types of storms are typically seen this time of the year, but “strong tornadoes anywhere is rare,” he added.
The tornadoes started in south Mississippi in Walthall County, and moved northeast into Jefferson Davis and Covington counties, said Kelly Richardson, a representative for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
“The two most devastating tornadoes today followed a very similar path, one right after the other,” she said.
Bill Bunting, the chief of forecast operations at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, said severe weather was “an event that we had been anticipating for about five days.”
“Unfortunately, it has played out like we feared,” he said, adding, “All of the ingredients, all the conditions that we look for when we’re forecasting tornadoes and strong tornadoes, were in place.”
The storm brought torrential rains to East Texas overnight and into Sunday morning, the National Weather Service said. By Sunday afternoon, a tornado had touched down in Monroe, in northeast Louisiana, destroying houses and damaging planes and structures at a regional airport.
Sahmeka Deburr, 38, of Monroe said she heard what sounded like someone pounding the walls of her house just after noon. She thought her 12-year-old son was playing in the next room, but then she heard a window shatter.
“My son came in the room and said he was scared, and the lights went out,” Deburr said. “I woke up everyone up and we ran in the bathroom and closed the door.”
Deburr said the tornado lasted only a few minutes. When she went outside to assess the damage, she said, she saw her neighbors’ roof on the ground, a flipped car and collapsed carports on her street.
“I’m thanking God,” she said. “Everyone ran outside in the rain, ignoring the quarantine, just trying to figure out if everyone was OK.”
More strong tornadoes are likely through Monday morning for portions of northern and central Alabama and south-central Tennessee, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The service has issued severe thunderstorm warnings and a tornado watch for those areas.
“We expect large hail, destructive winds and tornadoes,” said Daniel Huckaby, a Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth, Texas. The hail could be larger than golf balls, and the winds could exceed 80 mph, he said.
“This is not unusual this time of year in the South,” Huckaby said.
Warm and humid air flowing to the Deep South and strong winds are the perfect ingredients to produce severe weather, he said.
The storm cycle is expected to affect Georgia and the Carolinas by Monday morning.
“Everyone in the Deep South should keep alert and move to an interior room on the lowest floor,” Huckaby advised.
Parts of the Northeast are expected to face severe weather from a separate weather pattern on Monday, the National Weather Service said. The forecast suggested that parts of Suffolk County, on Long Island, and Middlesex County, Connecticut, could experience winds of up to 40 mph with gusts of up to 70 mph.