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Rescuers comb debris for survivors after Mississippi tornado

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Tornadoes reported Sunday in Alabama and South Carolina
  • In Mississippi, two sisters, 9 and 14, die inside mobile home, coroner says
  • Hundreds of homes, buildings flattened by nearly mile-wide twister that traveled 150 miles
  • Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour plans to request emergency federal aid on Monday

Yazoo City, Mississippi (CNN) -- Rescue crews in Mississippi continued to search for survivors Sunday from a powerful tornado that ripped through the state a day earlier, killing 10 people, injuring dozens of others and leveling scores of homes.

Two children and a 3-month-old baby were among the victims.

Two sisters, 9 and 14, were killed inside a mobile home, Choctaw County Coroner Keith Coleman told CNN.

The tornado tore a path nearly a mile wide and decimated neighborhoods as it raked cities from the central western border with Louisiana northeastward to Alabama. It leveled a church, sheared roofs off houses, overturned cars, snapped down hundreds of trees and plunged large swaths of the state in darkness as it toppled power lines.

The same storm system that unleashed Saturday's twister delivered severe weather to other parts of the South on Sunday, with tornadoes hitting Alabama and South Carolina.

On Sunday, a tornado in Darlington County in northern South Carolina overturned as many as four mobile homes and toppled trees and downed power lines.

Three people were hospitalized with minor injuries, according to Linwood Epps of the county's emergency management agency. He said that the local Cain Elementary school was damaged, with part of its roof missing.

The National Weather Service on Sunday gave the Mississippi tornado a preliminary rating of at least 3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of 0-5, with wind speeds of up to 160 miles per hour and a preliminary path width of one and a half miles.

Were you affected by the tornado? Send in pics, video

Ron Sullivan, a store owner in Choctaw County, said he was lucky to be alive after the storm hit around midday Saturday. "They always talk about you hearing the train," Sullivan told CNN. "There was no train. There was a bomb."

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RELATED TOPICS
  • Tornadoes
  • Mississippi

He said two customers were walking toward the door of his store when the tornado struck and that "when they opened the door, it hit and blew me back."

"The only thing that went through my mind were two things -- 'Please don't let anything else fall on me' and 'I hope my wife is OK,' " Sullivan said.

The hardest-hit counties were Yazoo and Choctaw, where assessment and rescue crews continued operations Sunday, though a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there weren't any specific reports of people trapped inside the rubble.

Authorities had recorded at least 681 homes damaged across six counties, according to MEMA spokesman Greg Flynn.

The agency was reporting 33 injuries, but it hadn't received counts from Yazoo and Choctaw counties.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said he has not yet requested emergency federal aid but plans to do so on Monday. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were scheduled to arrive Monday, anticipating an application for a disaster declaration, Flynn said.

Nearly 80 Mississippi National Guard troops, including 50 military police, had been deployed to Choctaw and Yazoo counties, MEMA reported. Forty highway safety patrol troops were also sent to the affected areas.

Five of the dead were from Choctaw County, in the north central part of the state; four were from Yazoo County, north of Jackson; and one was from Holmes County, also in north central Mississippi, said Flynn.

Barbour, who was in Yazoo City where his home is located, called the twister gigantic and said that "in places (it) seemed to be to be several miles wide."

Only 38 people stayed overnight in shelters in Yazoo City, Flynn said, adding that most of the affected were able to stay with family or friends.

Mississippi residents shared stories of tragedy and survival on Sunday.

"You could just feel the glass and debris flying in and cutting you," said Stacy Walker, who took cover in a hair salon in Yazoo City where she worked. "It felt like minutes and minutes. but I'm sure it was just seconds the time that it lasted."

Walker made it out safe but later learned that a high school friend died protecting her children.

Dale Thrasher was inside Yazoo City's Hillcrest Baptist Church when it was flattened by the tornado. "I went in the sanctuary and got under the pulpit table and the whole building fell around me," he said. His injuries: "Three little scratches."

In all, 12 counties reported injuries, with some of the injured airlifted to a level one trauma center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Local coverage from CNN affiliate WAPT

President Obama has "been briefed on the tragedy in Mississippi and the situation is being followed by the White House," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.

Mississippi residents reported that the path of the twister was a half-mile to a mile wide, said Mark McAllister, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said the twister had traveled 150 miles across Mississippi, starting in the western part of the state and moving northeast before weakening as it moved into Alabama.

Early Sunday morning, Alabama's emergency management officials confirmed a tornado touched down in Marshall County in the state's north.

At least one mobile home park and some homes in Albertville were destroyed, said CNN affiliate WAFF in Huntsville, Alabama.

On Sunday, Nancy Brooks surveyed the damage to her Albertville home, which was extensive. Part of home's roof was blown off, and debris littered the floors, which were now barely visible.

Brooks awoke to the sound of the incoming tornado, only to witness a moment later a large tree branch rip into her bedroom just feet from where she sleeps.

"I'm very lucky, I'm very fortunate," she said, as friends helped her begin the cleanup process.

Saturday's tornado was part of a broad band of storms that stretched from Missouri to the panhandle of Florida, Jeras said.

CNN Correspondent Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

 
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