Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says a devastating tornado that left 10 people dead severely damaged at least 100 homes in one area alone, and there may be more in isolated rural areas that rescuers have not yet reached.
The governor said Sunday that search and rescue missions would continue throughout the day. He said at least 100 homes were damaged in Yazoo County, but said that estimate may be far too low.
Barbour, who is from Yazoo City, said none of his relatives was hurt.
The governor stood in the parking lot of a heavily damaged restaurant amid a scene of snapped trees and houses wiped from foundations. Barbour says the tornado was "enormous."
Meteorologists said it was too soon to tell whether a single long-lasting tornado or multiple shorter ones caused the destruction.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
YAZOO CITY, Miss. (AP) — Rescuers stood ready Sunday to comb neighborhoods of splintered homes and twisted debris in Mississippi, a day after a devastating tornado sliced through the state and killed 10 people, including three children.
James Jackson, a deputy state fire marshal, said crews took a break overnight but were organizing at first daylight to resume search and rescue operations. All was still Sunday morning in one of the hardest hit areas of Yazoo City, except for the National Guard soldiers who blocked the roads and the occasional emergency vehicle.
The high winds on Saturday tore roofs off buildings in hard-hit Yazoo County, where Gov. Haley Barbour grew up. He described "utter obliteration" among the picturesque hills rising from the flat Mississippi Delta. Heavy thunderstorms also swept across north Alabama, Georgia and other states early Sunday, downing trees and unleashing scattered hail.
Meteorologists said it was too soon to tell whether a single long-lasting tornado — or multiple shorter ones — caused the arc of death and damage in far-flung Mississippi communities.
Yazoo County's coroner, Ricky Shivers, was in his own truck when the winds flipped the vehicle four times. Shivers went to the hospital to have bruised ribs and cuts treated, then went out to help identify bodies in his hospital gown. He told The Associated Press by phone Sunday morning that he did not know whether any more people had died because he was back in the hospital have his wounds tended to.
Many other residents told stories of unlikely survival amid the destruction.
"The roof was caving in, TVs flying off the shelves and it was horrible," said Mitchell Saxton, the owner of Ribeye's Steak House in Yazoo City.
Those with him in the restaurant ran into a walk-in freezer to safety when they saw the tornado. Saxton's restaurant was destroyed but no one was hurt there.
"We got in the walk-in freezer, sat in there for about 10 minutes," Saxton said. "When I came out it was really bad. Just thanking the good Lord I'm here and able to talk with you all."
Tornadoes were also reported in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama, and the severe weather continued to track northeastward early Sunday as gusty winds also downed trees crossing northwest Georgia.
In Yazoo City, Malcolm Gordon, 63, stood with family members 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 amid modest houses and mobile homes.
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.
Essie Hendrix, manager of Peebles department store in Yazoo City, said she and other employees were inside with about 15 customers when the tornado struck. An assistant manager took the customers to the back of the store, and Hendrix saw the tornado barreling through the parking lot.
"It was like a rumbling and a roaring and stuff was falling," Hendrix said. "It sounded like it was going to suck us out of there. It lasted about two minutes, but it felt like it lasted an hour."
No one in the store was injured, about 100 yards away from the steakhouse that was destroyed.
The severe weather began 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.
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 Choctow County were going house-to-house in the areas with the worst damage to check for any injured.
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.
"Sad, man," said 22-year-old Rafael Scott, shaking his head. "It's really hard to believe."
Three broken crosses stood near a flattened church. A nearby funeral home was reduced to rubble. In a patch of woods, pieces of tin were twisted high up in the broken trees.
Thousands across the state were without electricity, and downed power lines and trees blocked roads. At least four people had been brought by four-wheeler to a triage center at an old discount store parking lot, Yazoo City Mayor McArthur Straughter said as sirens whined in the background.
Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response ambulance service, said four patients from Yazoo County were airlifted and some 20 others were taken to hospitals. At least four people were in critical condition.
Associated Press writers Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson, Maria Burnham in French Camp, Jackie Quinn in Washington, Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and Jacob Jordan in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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