By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Charlotte Conner woke up Friday morning feeling like she’d been “run over by an elephant,” but she thanked God for it, glad to be alive after a tornado demolished the building she was in a day earlier.
Conner, 47, and her 69-year-old mother were among those injured by a twister that tore through at least two counties Thursday in eastern Mississippi, killing one and injuring at least nine.
The tornado killed 28-year-old Carlos Madrigal of Blue Mountain when it ripped apart a business north of DeKalb in Kemper County, Coroner Terry Bostick said.
The National Weather Service said Friday that that tornado was at least an EF3, a category with winds of 136 to 156 mph, though the agency is still studying damage patterns and its findings are preliminary.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said Thursday’s storms caused damage in at least seven Mississippi counties, but some was relatively minor, including downed trees and damaged roofs.
MEMA said in a news release Friday that at least 128 homes were damaged in Kemper and Noxubee counties, with half of these destroyed having major damage. Twelve businesses were damaged or destroyed.
“We’re through with all the search and rescue. Everybody’s accounted for. Now we have to do the damage assessments and people will begin the cleanup process,” Rent said.
April is the most active month for tornadoes in Mississippi, Rent said.
Conner and her mother were in a small, concrete block apartment on her family’s property in Shuqualak in Noxubee County when the twister mowed it to the ground.
“The roof lifted off and the walls came down on top of us. I was pinned down, but I reached over and grabbed Momma’s hand. It was trying to suck her out of the front of the house,” Conner recalled Friday in a telephone interview.
The building, an old country store converted to an apartment, was reduced to a heap of broken concrete blocks and boards.
“I feel like I’ve been run over by an elephant and a train, but we’re alive,” Conner said. “It was just the hand of God that kept us safe.”
Conner and her mother had injured knees, scratches and bruises. Conner had five stitches in her chin. They were treated at a hospital and released.
Conner’s aunt, Cindy Moore, was in a house nearby when the storm hit. She thought she’d lost her sister and her niece until she watched them stand up from the rubble.
The family sifted through the debris in search of family keepsakes but were told not disturb the wreckage too much until an insurance adjuster can look at it.
The stretch of Mississippi Highway 21 in Shuqualak was hit hard with trees uprooted or broken in half. Downed powers lines snaked through yards.
“It’s just kind of sickening, but we’re OK,” Moore said. “We’re going to get through it. We’re going to just take it one day at a time.”
Noxubee County Emergency Management Agency Director Bobby Mann said Thursday that the tornado plowed across his entire county, but much of it is rural. He said storm assessments would be done Friday because some roads had been flooded after the storm.
The storms were part of a powerful system that heaped snow and ice on the Midwest and battered the Deep South with powerful winds and heavy rain and killed at least three people. It left thousands without power as it moved up the East Coast on Friday.
Follow Mohr at http://twitter.com/holbrookmohr.