(OSV News) – Powerful tornadoes tore through rural Mississippi March 24, killing or injuring dozens and causing widespread destruction.
By the evening of March 25, an update from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported the death toll had risen to 25, and dozens of others were injured; four persons reported missing are accounted for. Multiple state agencies and partners have been working together to help in response and recovery efforts. News reports said that search and recovery crews continued to dig through destroyed homes and buildings on March 26.
"The loss will be felt in these towns forever," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a March 25 Twitter post. "Please pray for God's hand to be over all who lost family and friends."
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, extended his prayers and encouraged Catholics to support all communities affected by this tragic event. "We join in prayer for all those affected by the storms that crossed our state," he said in a March 25 statement posted on the diocesan website.
"We give thanks and pray for first responders, who are working tirelessly in affected communities trying to reach those missing, restore power and assist those surviving," Bishop Kopacz said in the statement.
"I encourage all to continue to pray and find ways to support all affected communities," he added. "We will be reaching out through our Catholic Charities Disaster Response team to assist in recovery efforts."
Pope Francis also prayed for the victims of the deadly weather and the people recovering from the loss of life and devastating destruction, according to Vatican News. "We pray also for the victims of the terrible tornado that struck Mississippi in the United States," the pope said at the end of his March 26 Angelus prayer.
Also on March 26, President Joe Biden ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected, due to the major disaster in Mississippi.
The National Weather Service confirmed tornado damage about 60 miles northeast of Jackson, Mississippi, with a lot of the destruction reported in Silver City and Rolling Fork, a rural town of more than 1,800 people.
In an interview with OSV News, Marvin Edwards, a lay ecclesial minister at Sacred Heart Parish in nearby Winona, shared what it was like to be in the tornado's path.
"This is the first time a tornado hit us directly,” he told OSV News. "As far as I know, all of our parishioners (at Sacred Heart) are OK. We don't have a lot of parishioners; we're a small mission church. My immediate thought was, 'I got angels protecting me evidently.' I just thanked him (God). Something was protecting me."