(CNN) — At least nine people are dead, including two children, after a tornado almost a mile wide tore through Mississippi on Saturday, the state emergency management agency said.The death toll is expected to rise as rescue crews reach hard-hit areas where structures have been badly damaged, said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for MEMA.The tornado raked cities on the central western border with Louisiana northeastward to Alabama, the National Weather Service reported.
At least two people were killed and 15 injured in Yazoo City, one of the hardest-hit areas, where the massive twister flattened homes and downed trees.Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in Yazoo City where his home is located, called the twister “enormous” and “devastating,” adding that some residents were trapped in badly damaged homes.
“They’re working to get to the people and rescue as many as they can,” said Dan Turner, a spokesman for the governor, reporting “significant injuries” in at least three counties.Watch Gov. Barbour’s update on storm damage in Yazoo City
In all, 12 counties were reporting injuries, with some of the injured airlifted to a level one trauma center at the University of Mississippi in Jackson, said Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
The governor is planning to activate local members of the National Guard in Yazoo City, Rent said, and the state’s emergency management officials have set up a command post near U.S. 49 in Yazoo City.
The state has also activated a 25-person rapid response team from Hattiesburg that is capable of search and rescue operations.
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// // Mississippi residents reported that the path of the twister was a half-mile to a mile wide, said Mark McAllister, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jackson.
CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said the tornado had traveled 150 miles across Mississippi, starting in the western part of the state and moving northeast before weakening as it moved into Alabama.
In Yazoo City, Fire Chief Roy Wilson told CNN that between 20 to 30 houses were destroyed, and said some people were trapped inside structures. Wilson said he didn’t yet have confirmed numbers on injuries.
“It’s in pretty bad shape so far,” he said of the city.
Speaking to reporters in Yazoo City, Barbour said that 17 injured have been taken to a hospital via ambulance and that two others were airlifted to Jackson.
“By God’s grace (the tornado) did not go into the most central part of the city, the most populous, however it went through the southern edge and eastern edge of town in a number of large neighborhoods,” he said. “A number of businesses have been destroyed and others severely damaged — there are churches that have been obliterated.”
In Eagle Lake, near the Louisiana border, about 30 homes were destroyed, Turner said. Linda Green, a dispatcher with the Issaquena County Sheriff’s Department, told CNN that there was minimal damage in the area around Valley Park, and a few power lines were down.
No injuries have been reported in Valley Park after the twister ripped through around 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET), she added.
Valley Park is in Issaquena County, while Yazoo City is located in Yazoo County. Issaquena County is in the western part of the state, north of Vicksburg. The entire state is under a tornado watch until 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET), according to the National Weather Service. iReport: Watch hail hammer Mississippi
The storm system struck Louisiana before it moved into Mississippi. A Tallulah, Louisiana, police dispatcher said a chemical plant in the city had been damaged, but could not give further details.
Turner said that emergency response teams had been slowed by people out surveying the effects of the storm.
“One of the biggest obstacles is, of course, people are curious and want to get out and see the damage,” he said. “We’ve urged people to stay away from those areas, not only because it slows down the emergency response, but there are also still live electrical wires, there are open gas lines that will have to be shut down.”