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Father and little girl among at least 20 dead after tornado and storms hit Mississippi

A father and his little girl were among at least 15 people killed when a tornado and damaging storms swept through Mississippi Friday night, officials said.

Monroe County Coroner Alan Gurley told NBC News that the man and his daughter died in a house where he was sheltering with his wife and two other children.

Gurley said that their bodies were found at the property in Wren, a large unincorporated community around 180 miles north of Jackson. The man's wife and two other children were taken to hospital, he added.

Elsewhere, Sharkey County Coroner Angelia Eason said there were 13 weather-related deaths in Rolling Fork, a small town with a population of about 1,800 people around 60 miles northwest of Jackson.

"The damage is tremendous,” she said. “It’s awful.” 

The coroner's office in Carroll County also confirmed that three people were found dead in destroyed house, while in Humphreys County, Coroner Samuel Irving said two men had died as a result of a tornado in Silver City, a community of around 220 about 30 miles east of Rolling Fork.

“It appears from the damage that I’ve been able to assess at this point, it was a large tornado — and it has destroyed the city of Rolling Fork,” Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker told NBC affiliate WLBT of Jackson by phone, adding that the damage was extenstive.

Searches for trapped people were also reported in Silver City,

The National Weather Service warned of a confirmed tornado on the ground headed towards Rolling Fork around 8:05 p.m.

A “tornado emergency,” a term used when there is a severe threat to life and reliable sources have confirmed a tornado, had been issued for it and other areas, the NWS said.

In an earlier alert that didn’t mince words the NWS said: “To protect your life, TAKE COVER NOW!”

“You are in a life-threatening situation,” it added. “Flying debris may be deadly to those caught without shelter. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Considerable damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles is likely and complete destruction is possible.”

In the Silver City area, all Humphreys County sheriff's deputies were responding and jail personnel were tasked with assisting dispatch and asking for aid.

“We are in desperate need of assistance with search and rescue,” Randy Taylor, a corrections officer with the sheriff's office, told WLBT. "People are trapped.”

The state was sending search-and-rescue resources and other help to the area, Malary White, spokesperson for Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also been alerted and is monitoring the situation, she said.

“Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight,” Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted. He added that the state has activated medical support and was surging ambulances to where they are needed.

Police in Amory, Mississippi, a city of around 6,600 not far from the Alabama border, pleaded with people to stay home so first responders could deal with effects from the weather.

Almost 19,000 people in Mississippi were without power early Saturday, according to the website.

The weather service in Birmingham said that a tornado had occurred nearby, but it was not clear if one struck the city itself.

A tornado emergency is a term used when there is a severe threat to life, catastrophic damage and when reliable sources have confirmed a tornado, according to the weather service. It began to be used in 1999 when a tornado was headed towards Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The tornado in Mississippi occurred as very buoyant air and strong low-level and upper-level shear was forecast to increase the risk of severe storms in the area, according to the weather service.

By early Saturday, tornado watches remained in parts of eastern Mississippi and in northern Alabama, according to the weather service. Earlier, those watches covered almost all of Mississippi.

Earlier Friday in Texas, two EF1 tornadoes with 100 mph winds struck in Parker County, west of Fort Worth, around 5 a.m., the weather service said. Five people were injured, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported.