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A powerful tornado has killed at least 23 people in the U.S. South


A deadly tornado has struck parts of Mississippi and Alabama overnight, tearing through rural communities in a type of storm known as a supercell. Authorities in Mississippi say that dozens of people have died. They expect the death toll to rise. Ross Adams is a reporter with WAPT News in Jackson, Miss. Mr. Adams, thanks for being with us.

ROSS ADAMS, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What's the extent of the storm been like, much as you can tell?

ADAMS: Well, and, you know, this is a well-worn phrase, but there appears to be massive devastation across particularly the town of Rolling Fork, the county seat of Sharkey County, which is the second-smallest county in the state of Mississippi. That's where the majority of the people who lost their lives passed away. I was speaking with the coroner in that county, and she tells me 13 people died in the town of Rolling Fork. She says practically the whole town is gone. She located six bodies in a trailer park. Another couple, a man and his wife, were found in their home after it was apparently hit by an 18-wheeler. That just gives you a sense of the force of those powerful winds. This may have been an EF3, EF4 - massive tornado. The winds are just unbelievable. And, of course, this is in the Mississippi Delta, communities surrounded by flatland. So the tornado, those strong winds had nothing to stop them as they were plowing through these small towns.

SIMON: You mentioned injuries in a trailer park. I gather there are a lot of mobile homes in the area, and these can be especially vulnerable.

ADAMS: Absolutely. That is the one thing that forecasters tell people as soon as there is a threat of severe weather. If you're in a mobile home, they're obviously not sturdy enough to survive the fierce winds of even an EF1 tornado. So a lot of people would have been trying to get to shelter. Of course, the storm hit after dark on Friday night, so it's unclear how much of a warning these folks had. And again, they have often in these communities these early-warning sirens, but if there's a strong wind, if there's a lot of rain, the cell is engulfed and the wind, the rain - you can't hear it. So a lot of people may have been caught off guard, may not have had a chance to get to a safe space.

SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Adams, what are the search-and-rescue efforts like right now?

ADAMS: Well, they have actually been going on all night. And we got a tweet from MEMA, the Mississippi department of emergency management. They tell us that there are dozens of people who are injured and at least four people who are missing. So there's going to be an extensive search and rescue, hopefully recovering people who may be trapped in some of the rubble. That, of course, will be going on all day. The sun has risen here, so we'll be getting a full extent to just how extensive the damage is. And obviously, people who are missing loved ones - those first responders and searchers will be trying to zero in on where those people were last seen.

SIMON: Yeah. What sort of reaction has there been from state and county authorities?

ADAMS: Obviously, this is a heartbreaking situation. Mississippi hasn't seen a deadly tornado like this in some time. Unfortunately, because we're in Tornado Alley, I've covered more than my fair share of tornadoes. But this is going to be a pretty significant, heartbreaking situation. We've had tweets from the governor, the lieutenant governor, expressing their condolences for the communities, for the people who've lost loved ones, and also promising resources, state and federal resources, to come in and to assist these folks, because it's going to be a long road ahead for the survivors.

SIMON: Ross Adams, who is a reporter with WAPT News in Jackson, Miss. Mr. Adams, thanks very much for joining us. And good luck to everyone there. And thanks to you and your colleagues for covering this story.

ADAMS: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.