Authorities say at least 22 people were killed by tornadoes that tore paths of destruction through Mississippi and Alabama late Friday, but the extent of the damage wasn't unveiled until first light, which helped determine how widespread the disaster was.
Initially, the death toll in Mississippi was believed to be 25, but has since been lowered.
"During a disaster, numbers are likely to change," the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) said. "Now that search and rescue efforts have been demobilized, MEMA can confirm a total of 21 storm-related fatalities."
More than 25 million Americans were under the threat for tornadoes, but it was the small towns such as Rolling Fork and Silver City in western Mississippi that took a direct hit.
"Every structure in town has pretty much sustained some type of damage if not total destruction," said Brett Adair, a storm tracker and field meteorologist.
Storm chasers were some of the first people on the scene after the tornadoes rumbled through and helped people who appeared helpless look for loved ones trapped by storm debris.
"As we were doing our interview, we're rolling the windows down but the only thing that you can do is listen for the scream," Adair said. "What we were doing was we were hearing people literally in the neighborhood on Jackson Avenue and U.S. 49 that were screaming at us for help. And I just had to drop the interview and drop everything inappropriate. At that point, we just go into first response mode."
Video taken by drones on Saturday showed vehicles flipped as if they were Matchbox cars and buildings where the only discernable feature that remained were the foundations.
Nothing that was in the direct path of the catastrophic twisters was spared, even Rolling Fork's water tower was reduced to rubble.
"It went right through town. And unfortunately, this morning, a lot of the things that people know are gone. And it's just heartbreaking out here," Adair said.
State search and rescue teams were deployed to the hardest hit areas of the state but news of survivors surfacing from the rubble was slow to emerge.
At least one of the victims who was killed by the nighttime tornado did not even make it out of bed - her brother not far away but able to tell his story of survival.
"When I went in the closet, and it snatched the door back open and pulled me out- I heard the roof coming off. And then all of a sudden a big boom, and it was gone," the Rolling Fork resident said.
Recovery teams continue to make their way through the rubble, which has been described as resembling a landfill, replacing the usual quaint sights of small towns in the rural South.
"In the South because of the ground solubility, people don't build basements here, so there's really no where for them to go. So most of them know to go to the center of the house, you have to go to a center room, usually a bathroom, and get into the bathtub. That's really your safest place. And for some of these people, that's what they did," said Andy Dean, a photographer on the scene of the devastation.
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Expert storm chasers described some of the damage as comparable to the first sights after a large tornado struck Mayfield, Kentucky in December 2011. National Weather Service meteorologists rated that twister an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale and estimated winds were 190 mph.
An advanced survey team of meteorologists and other experts will likely take its time examining debris from communities in Mississippi to determine the rating of the twisters from Friday evening's event.