As day breaks in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, the chirping birds in the blue skies above cut through the eerie quiet.

Occasionally, a car passes with the front window rolled down as people take phone pictures and videos of destruction on a film-set scale.

A lone figure is plotting a path between mounds of wood and corrugated iron, which bear little resemblance to what stood here before.

It is the first time Erwin Macon, a janitor at the local primary school, has been back in the daylight to see what remains of the place he calls home.

The footprint of his mobile home is still there. Everything else, as he says, is gone.

“A lot of people lost their lives. Coming by here, seeing this, it’s hard to deal with,” he says, looking into the distance.

“I’m blessed to be alive.”

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Moment tornado hits Mississippi school

How man clung to carpet to ensure unlikely survival

It was just before 8pm on Friday when Macon received a text from the authorities, urging people to take shelter.

But it was too late. Within a few minutes, the tornado and its near 200mph swirling winds were upon him and the other almost 2,000 people who live in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

“I didn’t even hear the siren go off,” he says.

“So when it came, I couldn’t tell you which direction that storm was coming from.

“First it got calm and quiet and next thing you know, you start hearing all that noise and I felt coming towards me.

“The only thing I could do was to get the mattress off the bed and throw it on top of me and lay on the floor.

“The storm blew the mattress off and the only thing that covered me was the carpet.

“Somehow it wrapped around me, and no debris got on me, it kept the rain off.

“I was just holding so tightly, so I wouldn’t get sucked out. That was God, because I’m not supposed to be here.”

Photos show how deadly storm reduced buildings to rubble

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‘It’s really bad’: Residents hit by tornado

‘Blood running down my face’

Rolling Fork is a deeply religious community – and Lauretta Reed was thanking God, too, after her miraculous escape from the same mobile home park.

She has just been released from the hospital, with stitches holding together a deep gash on her forehead and a finger which was, she says, half hanging off.

“It happened so fast, I don’t know what hit me,” she says.

“I just heard a roar like a big train coming towards me. I don’t know how long it lasted for, but when I came out I had blood running down my face.

“It was still lightening and people were screaming and crying for help and I couldn’t help them. It hurts.”

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The damaged site of Enviva Pellets, a maker of sustainable wod pellets, in Amory, Mississippi. Pic: AP
A resident surveys the damage done to her car in Amory, Mississippi. Pic: AP
A homeowner surveys the damage in Amory, Mississippi. Pic: AP
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Damage from the tornado in Amory, Mississippi. Pics: AP

Seeing the scale of the damage, it is hard to believe that more lives were not lost here, even as the search and rescue effort continues.

Everything in the path of the tornado was pulverised.

Almost everyone here has a story to tell.

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Sheriff heartbroken after relative dies in US tornado

Hiding in a fridge as building destroyed

At Chuck’s Dairy Bar, a diner on the main road of this small town, perhaps the most miraculous of survival stories, as employees hid in a refrigerator while the tornado passed through.

Owner Tracy Harden says: “The lights flickered and someone said ‘cooler’. Nine of us rushed in, really quickly.

“Before my husband could close the door, he said, ‘I can see the sky’. That meant our roof was gone.

“I can’t say how long we were in there, but we felt it moving. We were being pushed and shoved between each other.

“Then all of a sudden it stopped”.

A pickup truck rests on top of a restaurant cooler at Chuck's Dairy Cafe in Rolling Fork, Miss., Saturday, March 25, 2023. .   Emergency officials in Mississippi say several people have been killed by tornadoes that tore through the state on Friday night, destroying buildings and knocking out power as severe weather produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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A truck rests on top of a restaurant cooler at Chuck’s Dairy Bar. Pic: AP
Tracy and Tim Hardin, owners of Chuck's Dairy Bar, survey the tornado destruction to their business in Rolling Fork. Pic: AP
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Tracy and Tim Hardin, owners of Chuck’s Dairy Bar, survey the destruction to their business. Pic: AP

The tornado left as fast as it had come.

But the scars – in the minds, businesses and homes of people in Rolling Fork – will take much longer to heal.

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