"It's unbelievable," said W.L. Whittington, mayor of Brandon, which is 15 miles east of Jackson, the state capital. "We're lucky we didn't lose more lives than we did."
Seven people were killed and scores of others were injured as tornadoes moved across northern Georgia yesterday.
About 75 people worshiping at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., escaped injury when a twister blew their steeple off, throwing it 200 yards into the church cemetery. Church member Ann Cleveland said worshipers had just finished singing "Amazing Grace" when the tornado hit, forcing them to duck under their pews for cover.
In Tennessee, storms left one person dead, and in northern Kentucky, one person died and at least nine were injured.
In Brandon, Miss., the storm leveled houses, uprooted trees and downed hundreds of power and telephone poles.
"It just whished through here like slicing hot butter," Constable Martin Mann said. "We've got two-story homes not bigger than a bag of firewood. They're wiped out."
A tornado smashed through a mobile home park and then skipped across Brandon to an upscale neighborhood, where it killed a father and son, along with two of the boy's Cub Scout buddies spending the night there.
At the mobile home park, where six people died, rescue workers used doors
from smashed houses as makeshift stretchers.
Mississippi Power & Light Co. spokesman Edd Jussely said power may not be restored to some homes in the area for two days.
Mike Wood, who lives on a hillside about a half-mile away from the Brandon mobile home park, described the scene.
"I can see for about a 500-yard radius, and all I see is devastation all around us. I don't think anything will be salvageable on that (trailer) lot. There was a church on Highway 468 that is gone. It's just a slab," he said.
Peggy Nicholson, her voice shaking, described the destruction she witnessed:
"The house was vibrating. It was real hot, and I knew what it was because it sounded just like a freight train," she said. "I jumped out of bed and the window blew out and I was blown into the kitchen. Then I heard my neighbor screaming, 'Help! Help! Help!' "
Nicholson woke her husband, who ran next door to help the neighbor, Ann Smith, pull her dead husband, Terry, out of the rubble. The Smiths' son Justin, 10, and two of his Cub Scout friends who were spending the night were also killed. About 100 rescue workers, neighbors and volunteers searched the nearby woods and yards for several hours before finding the bodies of Justin and his friends, brothers Jeremy Chaz Blackwell Warrington, 7, and Joseph Lee Warrington, 10. Neighbors and their children hugged and cried in each others' arms as they watched the search.
U.S. Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery (D., Miss.), whose district includes Rankin County, said he would ask President Bush to declare the area eligible for federal disaster relief.
In Georgia, tornadoes touched down in at least six counties, turning over mobile homes and causing extensive damage in some areas. The seven people killed included four who died near Eatonton in central Georgia, according to Putnam Sheriff Gene Resseau. Two people died in Lumpkin County, north of Atlanta. A tornado hit White Plains in east Georgia, and Greene County Dispatcher Sonya Vestal said there was one confirmed death and 31 injuries.
Tractor-trailers were blown off Interstate 75 in the Atlanta area, backing up traffic for miles.
Sen. Wyche Fowler (D., Ga.), who faces a runoff election tomorrow, was involved in a seven-car crash blamed on the storm, but was not among the 22 people injured.
In Kennesaw, northwest of Atlanta, 34 people were injured.
In western Tennessee, a tornado overturned a mobile home near Toone, killing an 11-year-old boy, officials said. Scattered damage was reported.
Numerous injuries were reported in northern Alabama as tornadoes destroyed mobile homes and toppled trees. Downed power and telephone lines made communication with some areas difficult, authorities said.
In Indiana, a narrow line of thunderstorms spawned tornadoes that raked the southern and central parts of the state during the afternoon, damaging homes, businesses and downing trees and power lines. At least eight people were injured.
Four people were injured and several homes were damaged on the eastern side of Indianapolis. Power was knocked out to about 11,000 homes.
In western Ohio, a tornado touched down last night and injured eight people.
South Carolina was hit by at least two tornadoes last night, and a mobile home was destroyed by a tornado in North Carolina.
Texas and Louisiana were hit by tornadoes Saturday, with heavy damages and numerous injuries, but no deaths.