A powerful tornado tore through rural Mississippi and Alabama on Friday night, killing at least 26 people, reports CNN. The tornado also destroyed buildings and knocked out power as severe weather that produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several Southern states and prompted authorities to warn some in its path that they were in a "life-threatening situation," per the AP. Sharkey County Coroner Angelia Easton told ABC News that 13 people were killed by the tornado in that county. An emergency management director and multiple coroners tell CNN that at least three others were killed in Humphreys County; three in Carroll County; and two in Monroe County. The AP wasn't immediately able to confirm those fatalities.
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado caused damage about 60 miles northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork were reporting destruction as the tornado continued sweeping northeast at 70mph without weakening, racing toward Alabama through towns including Winona and Amory into the night. The NWS issued an alert as the storm was hitting that didn't mince words: "To protect your life, TAKE COVER NOW!" 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, per the Vicksburg Daily News. Some law enforcement units were unaccounted for in Sharkey, reports the newspaper.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a Twitter post Friday night that search and rescue teams were active and that officials were sending more ambulances and emergency assets to those affected. This tornado was a supercell, a nasty type of storm that brews the deadliest tornado and most damaging hail in the United States, says Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. What's more, this was a nighttime wet one, which is "the worst kind," Ashley notes. 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," says the professor. The death toll in this file has been updated. (Survivors describe the terror.)