NATIONAL NEWS

After tornado, harrowing tales of survival in Mississippi

Mar 25, 2023, 1:30 PM

William Barnes talks about the damage to his property on Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Silver City, M...

William Barnes talks about the damage to his property on Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Silver City, Miss. Emergency officials in Mississippi say several people have been killed by tornadoes that tore through the state on Friday night, destroying buildings and knocking out power as severe weather produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states. (AP Photo/Michael Goldberg)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Michael Goldberg)

SILVER CITY, Miss. (AP) —

Nothing remained of William Barnes’ home in the tiny western Mississippi town of Silver City after a killer tornado tore it off its foundations. He stood in disbelief Saturday as he surveyed the lot where he’d lived for 20 years, twisted debris of cinder blocks and mangled wood siding scattered across where his home once stood.

“We lost everything but got out alive,” he said, holding his young granddaughter in his arms.

Throughout the town of just over 200 people, the stories were similar — utter destruction, incredible survival and tragic deaths from Friday’s twister that killed at least 23 as it surged nearly 170 miles (274 kilometers) across the Deep South.

A child’s Shrek doll lay face down in the dirt next to a pile of broken plywood and branches, feet from a busted-up refrigerator with its back torn clean off. Limbs from several fallen trees blocked an abandoned school bus. Outside the wall of what used to be a house, a bike lay strewn upside down in another pile of debris.

Residents sat in folding chairs outside the mud-splattered ruins of beloved family homes as people came by in all-terrain vehicles and golf carts packed with bottles of water to distribute. A line of cars was parked on the road from first responders and family who had driven in to help with clean up and rescue efforts.

Christine Chinn, who’s lived in Silver City her whole life, said her roof was gone and cars were upended in her yard as she took stock of the damage to her home of 20 years. She took cover with her husband and son in the hallway, covering themselves with a blanket as they desperately sought to protect themselves.

“It just got calm and all of sudden everything just — like a big old train or something coming through,” she said, adding that she feared much of her belongings weren’t salvageable.

She said she was “very scared” and had never experienced anything like it.

“I was just praying,” she said.

Christin George said her parents and grandmother narrowly escaped when the tornado blew out the windows and ripped off part of the roof of their home.

She said her parents huddled behind a door that hadn’t been hung yet and threw a blanket over her grandmother to shield themselves from the glass that “shot down the hallway and peppered everybody.”

“Everything else around them is just gone,” she said, at times clutching her hand to her chest. “They were lucky. That’s all there is to it.”

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Associated Press reporter Leah Willingham contributed from Charleston, West Virginia.

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Michael Goldberg and Claire Rush are corps members for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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After tornado, harrowing tales of survival in Mississippi