A deadly storm system swept across the U.S. Wednesday, and officials were searching for missing residents into the night.
A 7-year-old boy died in Holly Springs, Mississippi, when the storm picked up and tossed the car he was riding in, officials said. Police there said several homes were blown off their foundations.
Slabs of metal were tangled in drooping power lines, dangling precariously alongside the road, and the smell of freshly overturned dirt and trees lingered in the air as emergency crews tended to downed power lines.
Storm chasers shared this video of a tornado touching down in Clarksdale Mississippi.
Close by, in Benton County, Mississippi, two people died and at least two were missing. Crews were searching house-by-house and to make sure residents were accounted for.
In the northwest part of the state, A tornado damaged or destroyed at least 20 homes. Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett said the only confirmed casualty was a dog killed by storm debris. Planes at a small airport overturned and an unknown number of people were injured.
“I’m looking at some horrific damage right now,” the mayor said. “Sheet metal is wrapped around trees; there are overturned airplanes; a building is just destroyed.”
Another man shared this video of a funnel cloud passing over the interstate south of Como Mississippi.
Another video shows the moment a tornado flipped over a semi truck on the highway.
The threat of severe weather just before Christmas is unusual, but not unprecedented, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the national Storm Prediction Center.
Twisters hit southeast Mississippi exactly a year ago, killing five people and injuring dozens of others. On Christmas Day in 2012, a storm system spawned several tornadoes, damaging homes from Texas to Alabama.
Emergency officials in Tennessee worried that powerful winds could turn holiday yard decorations into projectiles, the same way gusts can fling patio furniture in springtime storms, said Marty Clements, director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency in Jackson, the state’s largest city between Memphis and Nashville.
“If you go through these neighbourhoods, there are a lot of people very proud of what they’ve put out and they’ve got stuff everywhere — all these ornaments and deer and everything else,” Clements said. “They’re not manufactured to withstand that kind of wind speed, so they become almost like little missiles.”
In Arkansas, Pope County Sheriff Shane Jones said 18-year-old Michaela Remus was killed when a tree crashed into her bedroom. The woman and her 1 1/2-year-old sister were sleeping in a bedroom of the house near Atkins about 65 miles northwest of Little Rock, when winds uprooted the tree that crashed through the roof.
“It’s terrible that this happened, especially at Christmas,” Jones said.
Forecasters said by Wednesday night, the severe weather threat could shift east into the southern Appalachian Mountain region.
People are sharing photos of the damage across the three states on social media.
Tornado destroys Mississippi’s Holly Springs Motorsports Park. Prayers to all in this community Jeff Reed photo pic.twitter.com/8b7TvDLD1p
— Lost Speedways (@LostSpeedways) December 24, 2015