“I know of two friends who lost their life,” Rolling Fork business owner Ricky Cox said as he started to absorb the devastating consequences of tornadoes that ripped across Mississippi.
“It’s way worse than I thought. All of the businesses on Highway 61 are gone,” he told AFP on Saturday as he picked up emergency supplies to deliver to those in need.
Cox has owned Southern Ag Distributors, a seed and chemical supplier, on Highway 61 for 12 years.
The tornado “tore the building up — I won’t be able to do anything out of it,” the 61-year-old said.
Cox, who lives one hour away near the state capital Jackson, drove to Rolling Fork late on Friday to check on his business as the powerful storm hit.
It was “hard to get into town,” he said. “We had to cut trees and move power lines.”
During a traumatic night, he picked up a doctor and nurses to take them to help victims at the local hospital.
Cox said two friends were confirmed dead after suffering a “direct hit” on their homes.
There would be “a lot more” than the current 23 confirmed deaths, he predicted.
Stormchaser and photographer Aaron Rigsby described arriving at the scene and hearing “a constant cry of voices screaming for help from people that were trapped.”
“There was a lady that didn’t quite make it to her shelter in time and she had gotten blown down and part of her house had actually collapsed on top of her,” he told AFP.
“I was able to free her from all the debris, but she had a leg injury and I had to go flag down a few ambulances to get her a stretcher.”
Another elderly lady “was pinned between her couch and her entire roof and refrigerator from the kitchen had collapsed on top of her.
“And it was the same scene all across town.”
Patricia Perkins also spoke to AFP by phone, saying she was in “what used to be Rolling Fork.”
“Most everything is wiped away,” she said, telling how she headed to the hardware store where she works as it had a generator and stayed open all night.
Tearful Tracy Harden, owner of the destroyed Chuck’s Dairy Bar, told CNN that hiding in a cooler room saved her and several others’ lives.
“It was like no notice. We didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “I got a message from my daughter and my sister, saying ‘there’s a tornado — get to safety.’
“All of a sudden the lights started flickering. I don’t know if it was me or somebody who said ‘cooler’ and my husband started just pushing us all in the cooler, and this little spot saved our lives.”
Jeremy McCoy, a constable in neighboring Yazoo County, told CNN an entire trailer park was “gone.”
“It looks like a landtip. It’s rubbish,” he said, describing “semi-trucks and trailers stacked on top of each other.
“I’ve been in several (storms), but I’ve never seen one this bad.
“My hope was to get there to help rescue those people. But, you know, if you didn’t have heavy machinery, there’s nothing you can do.
“(I was) screaming out, calling out, physically looking. But it was so hard to see. Just hoping to hear somebody… but nothing.”