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Rescuers spread out Sunday to scour 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.
All was still Sunday morning as the sun rose amid one of the hardest hit areas of Yazoo City. About 40 National Guard soldiers patrolled the area, some in Humvees and others in a Blackhawk helicopter. Dozens of volunteer state troopers and other law enforcement officers also came from far-flung parts of the state to help.
The high winds on Saturday ripped roofs off buildings in hard-hit Yazoo County, a county of about 28,000 people known for blues, catfish and cotton where Gov. Haley Barbour grew up. He described "utter obliteration" among the picturesque hills rising from the flat Mississippi Delta.
"This tornado was enormous," Barbour told The Associated Press as searchers resumed their work.
He estimated at least 100 houses in Yazoo County alone had severe damage but said his estimate could rise later.
Speaking in the parking lot of a heavily damaged restaurant, Barbour said emergency crews would be going to isolated houses in rural areas they had been unable to reach in the first chaotic hours after Saturday's storm.
Around him, he stood against a backdrop of snapped trees stretching to the horizon, houses wiped from their foundations and odd debris - including a child's stuff toy and a metal boat laying alongside a road.
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. The same storm front spawned heavy thunderstorms that raked across the Southeast, snapping trees, damaging rooftoops and scattering hail.
On Sunday, some recalled terrifying moments.
Josiah Moton, 31, and his girlfriend, Morgan Hayden, 27, were in their Yazoo County home when the sky darkened Saturday and Moton went out to try to move his vehicle to a safer spot.
"The wind was coming so strong it tried to tote me away," Moton said.
He ran back inside and they both huddled in a bathtub. Neither one had even a cut. But now they are homeless - the bathroom was the only room not destroyed, the rest of the house reduced to rubble.
"Someone else's kitchen sink is where our kitchen used to be," Hayden said.
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 AP 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.
Indeed, there were many 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.
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.
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 Saturday 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.
This program aired on April 25, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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