The tornado that ripped through the Deep South on Friday night, razing entire communities and sending semi-trailers flying into neighbors’ homes, killed a father and his baby daughter as the rest of his family landed in a hospital with horrific injuries.
Monroe County Coroner Alan Gurley confirmed 34-year-old Ethan Herndon and his 1-year-old daughter Riley Herndon died at their home on Herndon Lane in the northeastern Mississippi town of Wren.
According to a GoFundMe set up by the family, Ethan’s wife and Riley’s mom, Elizabeth, suffered multiple injuries including a broken arm, a broken leg, and a dislocated hip. Their eldest child, Brantley, was airlifted to a hospital with several broken bones, a lacerated liver, and a punctured lung. Their middle child, Aubrey, was hospitalized with a broken elbow, a possible broken ankle, and lacerations.
“This sweet family is physically and emotionally shattered,” the fundraiser said. “They have suffered the most painful and terrifying loss any of us can imagine, and their needs are obvious and great.”
Elizabeth, Brandley, and Aubrey’s injuries were “much more extensive than we at first thought,” Ethan’s cousin, Leah Easley Edington, wrote on Facebook. “They will have long recoveries.”
Wren was one of several towns decimated by an EF-4 tornado, which was unusually devastating because it was fast-moving, nocturnal, hit vulnerable communities, and had a lengthy time on the ground at more than an hour. It stretched a long path of at least 170 miles, and top wind speeds reached around 166-200 mph.
It was declared the worst tornado in 50 years for Mississippi, where 25 people were killed. One man was killed in Alabama when his trailer home flipped over.
FEMA said 55 people were injured and 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The death toll is expected to rise as crews dig through the rubble.
Rescue crews found it hard to get into towns like Wren at first because they were so heavily damaged.
In Rolling Fork, a town of 2,000, at least 18 people were killed and more than two dozen were still unaccounted for by Sunday morning. Even storm chasers who were in town to document the wild weather ended up having to plead for help, the Associated Press reported, and some abandoned the chase to drive injured people to the hospital.
John Brewer, a long-haul trucker, said the tornado destroyed his home and sent his tractor-trailer flying into his neighbor’s home, killing its residents, L.A. Pierce and his wife Melissa, The Clarion Ledger reported.