Published: 2023-03-27 10:33
Last Updated: 2023-05-30 19:46
A brick house reduced to rubble, its floors strewn with personal effects like a pink backpack and a bottle of shampoo, somehow standing upright.
That's just one of many scenes of the utter devastation left by a tornado that ripped through the southern US state of Mississippi Friday night. And shell-shocked residents of the shattered town of Rolling Fork are now grappling with how much their lives changed in the blink of an eye.
At least 25 people were killed, 13 of them in this town of 2,000 people.
On Sunday morning, under skies that were blue for the time being, with more storms possible, people came back to see the blasted wrecks of what used to be their homes -- and to salvage what they can.
"Twenty years of my life, gone," said Shirley Stamps, standing in her ruined house and looking at her bed now covered with dirt and sticks.
"But thank God, thank God," said Stamps. "We're here. We're alive."
The 58-year-old recalled how on Friday she had just finished having dinner with her family and was about to put on her nightgown when a powerful wind kicked up. Its groaning sound got stronger and stronger, hinting at danger.
As her granddaughter took a bath, Stamps banged on the door to let her know everyone was crowding into the bathroom, thinking it would be safer.
"We all just came on in and went to the floor," said Stamps.
On Sunday, except for part of the house's facade, the bathroom was the only room still standing.
Across the street, a woman named Shakeria Brown looked at her car, which had been smashed by a tree. Her house had almost entirely collapsed.
"I was sitting on the couch, me and my eight month old baby, when the windows started shaking," said Brown, who is 26.
"The windows bust, the roof caved in on top of me and it started raining," she added.
Holding the baby in her arms, Brown covered her head with a blanket to try to protect herself and the child as best she could, until a neighbor came and got them out.
For now she is staying with friends. The future is unclear because her landlord will not want to rebuild the house.
- 'Send help' -
Indeed the landlord, who owns several properties in this mainly Black and low income neighborhood, confirmed Brown's fears.
"What can you do?" said the African-American landowner, who asked not to be named, as he gazed stoically at the destruction.
He said insurance companies will not pay out enough to rebuild all the ruined homes in one of the poorest parts of the country.
Unless the US government intervenes, he said, "they're going to clean it up and then it'll stay empty."
Another person who lost out is Kimberly Berry, 46, who works in a catfish plant. She lives between Rolling Fork and Silver City, another town ravaged by the tornado.
Her house was flattened by the storm, which blew away the walls and roof, leaving only the wood floor, a chest of drawers, a bathtub flipped onto one side and some personal possessions tossed here and there.
But like many tornadoes, this twister was selective: there are long stretches of land where houses were not touched, while right next to them homes were crushed to their foundations.
Berry said her insurance will not cover the damage because her house was built in a flood-prone area. She plans to buy a mobile home for her next lodgings.
Her two sisters sat under an umbrella as sandwiches and bottled water were handed out. They said they had a message for the federal government.
"Send help. We need help," said Dorthy Berry.
The 65-year-old barely had time to take refuge in a church before the tornado turned her world upside down.
"I'm grateful. We're still alive," Berry said. "That's all that matters."