Powerful tornado cuts a devastating path of at least 274 kilometres through the southern US states, killing 25 people in Mississippi, one in Alabama and obliterating scores of buildings, officials say.

President Joe Biden has promised federal help, describing the damage as
President Joe Biden has promised federal help, describing the damage as "heartbreaking." (AP)

At least 26 people have been killed when a tornado and severe storms swept through the southern US states of Mississippi and Alabama, authorities said. 

The tornado flattened entire blocks of the small Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping cars on their sides and toppling the water tower. Residents hunkered down in bath tubs and broke into a John Deere store that they converted into a triage center for the wounded.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced late on Saturday afternoon in a tweet that the death toll had risen to 25 from 23. Four who were missing have been found but dozens also were injured.

Meanwhile other parts of the Deep South were digging out from damage caused by other suspected twisters. One man also died in Morgan County, Alabama, the sheriff’s department there said in a tweet.

"There's nothing left," said Wonder Bolden, holding her granddaughter, Journey, while standing outside the remnants of her mother’s now-leveled mobile home in Rolling Fork. "There's just the breeze that's running, going through — just nothing."

Throughout Saturday, she and others walked around dazed and in shock as they broke through debris and fallen trees with chain saws, searching for survivors. Power lines were pinned under decades-old oaks, their roots torn from the ground.

READ MORE: Widespread damage as deadly tornado moves through Mississippi


Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued a State of Emergency and vowed to help rebuild as he headed to view the damage in an area speckled with wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. 

President Joe Biden also promised federal help, describing the damage as "heartbreaking."

The damage in Rolling Fork was so widespread that several storm chasers — who follow severe weather and often put up livestreams showing dramatic funnel clouds — pleaded for search and rescue help. 

Others abandoned the chase to drive injured people to the hospital.

Preliminary information based on estimates from storm reports and radar data indicate that it was on the ground for more than an hour and traversed at least 274 kilometres, said Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Jackson, Mississippi, office.

Meteorologists saw a big tornado risk coming for the general region as much as a week in advance, said Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley.

Tornado experts like Ashley have been warning about increased risk exposure in the region because of people building more.

"You mix a particularly socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado, and, disaster will happen," Ashley said in an email.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies