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Mississippi restaurant workers survived fierce twister that killed 26 by hiding in walk-in fridge

By Andrea Cavallier For Dailymail.Com,

2023-03-27

Eight restaurant workers survived an enormous mile-wide 200mph twister that left 26 dead in Mississippi by hiding in the diner's walk-in refrigerator.

Tracy Harden, 48, the quick-thinking owner of Chuck's Dairy Bar, rushed the group into the cooler as the monster tornado descended on the town of Rolling Fork on Friday night.

Moments later, all that was left of the diner that had been a mainstay in the community for more than 60 years, was the refrigerator. Photos show the steel box still standing while all the walls of the building were torn down.

'It's more than a business, it's my community,' owner Tracy Harden, 48, told Good Morning America (GMA) , choking back tears. 'And thank god we're alive, but also we're so devastated by the loss.'

Throughout Saturday, survivors walked around dazed and in shock as they broke through debris and fallen trees with chain saws, searching for survivors. Power lines were pinned under decades-old oaks, their roots torn from the ground.

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At least 26 people have died from the twisters, however the toll is expected to rise as dozens more have been injured and thousands have been displaced.

'The whole trailer park behind us is gone,' Harden said. 'We don't know where everybody is. We don't know who's alive and who is gone.'

The tornadoes tore through Mississippi and the neighboring Alabama on Friday night and left a trail of havoc more than 100 miles long across the state.

Harden said they only had about a minute warning that the tornado was coming.

'I got 22 text messages back to back from my sister and my daughter in Vicksburg and they both said, uh, it was just, there's a tornado down, get to a safe place,' Harden told GMA.

'And at the same time, my teenage cashier came running towards the back of the building saying my mother's on the phone and she said there's a tornado down and at that point, most of us were towards the back of the building.

She continued: 'And the lights flickered and I just hollered "cooler" and my husband opened the cooler door and started shoving us in.'

Harden, her husband Tim, and their six employees sheltered in the cooler.

Right before Harden's husband closed the cooler door, he looked out and saw that the roof of the restaurant was gone, and he could see the sky.

'He looked up and he said, "I see the sky" and so that let us know that this was way worse than anything we could have imagined and the roof was gone.'

All eight people survived and were able to climb out of the rubble when one of the employees cleared a path through the debris.

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Harden and her husband have owned the diner for 16 years, but it has been a staple in the community for more than six decades.

But within minutes, the beloved diner had been left in shambles. The walk-in cooler, a heavy duty pool table and a bathroom - where one other person survived - were all that was left.

Carolyn Washington, the woman who survived by sheltering in the bathroom also spoke out about her harrowing experience.

'I looked up, it was a truck uh, had landed on top of the bathroom,' she told GMA.

So I panicked a little bit and I uh found my way out and I yelled for help and someone came over to help me, uh get out and Tracy can you give us?

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en_US"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Survivors share stories of survival after Rolling Fork devastation. ABC News&#39; <a href="https://twitter.com/RobMarciano?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RobMarciano</a> spoke with the people who lived through the tornado.<a href="https://t.co/9o568IdE1m">https://t.co/9o568IdE1m</a> <a href="https://t.co/RqJqX30T2b">pic.twitter.com/RqJqX30T2b</a></p>&mdash; Good Morning America (@GMA) <a href="https://twitter.com/GMA/status/1640034672171180041?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 26, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1KKnAW_0lWvbrlN00https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=25ghJD_0lWvbrlN00https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=03rGtg_0lWvbrlN00

The tornadoes tore through Mississippi and the neighboring Alabama on Friday night and left a trail of havoc more than 100 miles long across the state. At least 25 people have died in Mississippi, with another person confirmed dead in Alabama.

Among the victims were a three-year-old and her dad who died after a tornado hit their home in Wren , Mississippi. In Rolling Fork, one of Mississippi's worst-hit towns, a couple died in each other's arms when the tornado dropped their neighbor's 18-wheeler on their house in the middle of the night.

After President Joe Biden freed up disaster aid , the National Weather Service (NWS) warned residents of Mississippi and neighboring Alabama of potential new 'supercell thunderstorms' into Monday that could 'produce a few strong tornadoes and very large hail .'

Mississippi governor Tate Reeves warned on Sunday that the risks seem to be 'getting worse and worse, not better', according to Sky News . He added that there were 'significant risks' to those living south of Interstate 55, which is the south's longest highway.

Search-and-rescue workers surveyed the damage of shredded homes, flattened buildings and smashed cars in Rolling Fork, a small town all but wiped out by nature's wrath.

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PICTURED: Couple who died in each other's arms when 200mph Mississippi tornado crashed 18-wheeler into their home - as survivors describe 'war zone' after twisters killed 26 - READ MORE

The NWS gave Friday's tornado a rating of four out of five on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with ferocious winds of up to 200 miles per hour, and classified it as 'violent'.

Dozens of people have also been injured, and officials say the death toll could rise.

Under warm spring sunshine and cloudless blue skies, stunned residents walked among obliterated homes, sifting through debris and comforting one another as crews fought fires, conducted searches and cleared emergency routes.

Before-and-after satellite images released late Sunday showed utter ruin across parts of Rolling Fork, with homes destroyed and trees ripped out of the earth.

The American Red Cross moved into a National Guard building in Rolling Fork hours after the storm razed much of the town, home to around 2,000 people.

An area was set up as an infirmary and boxes full of food and medical supplies were shuttled in to support storm victims who had lost everything, said John Brown, a Red Cross official for Alabama and Mississippi.

Anna Krisuta, 43, and her 16-year-old son Alvaro Llecha took shelter at the site, saying their house was in pieces.

The severe weather also left a man dead in Alabama when he was trapped under an overturned trailer, the sheriff's office in Morgan County said.

Officials including US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas gathered in Rolling Fork Sunday afternoon, praising rescue efforts and pledging support 'for the long haul.'

'It is heartbreaking to hear of the loss of life, to see the devastation firsthand,' Mayorkas told a press conference held with Governor Tate Reeves and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) head Deanne Criswell.

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