YAZOO CITY, Miss. —One prayed to God under a communion table as his church was blown to pieces around him.
Another was on the phone with a meteorologist when the tornado threw him against a cinder-block wall that held just long enough to save his life. A coroner nearly became a victim himself when the twister flipped his truck four times; later he went out in his hospital gown to help identify bodies.
At least 10 people were killed when the tornado ripped through the rural Mississippi countryside, but the stories told by survivors on Sunday show how much higher the toll could have been.
Dale Thrasher, 60, had been alone in Hillcrest Baptist Church when the tornado hit Saturday, ripping away wood and metal until all that was left was rubble, Thrasher and the table he had climbed under as he prayed for protection.
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"The whole building caved in," he said. "But me and that table were still there."
Sunday was sunny and breezy as Thrasher and other members of the Yazoo City church dug through the debris and pulled out a few chairs and other items. One found a hymnal opened to the song, "Till the Storm Passes By."
Hundreds of homes also were damaged in the storm, which carved a path of devastation from the Louisiana line to east-central Mississippi, and at least three dozen people were hurt.
All that remained of Sullivan's Crossroads Grocery was a pile of cinder blocks and some jars of pickled eggs and pigs' feet. But owner Ron Sullivan, his wife and four other people rode out the storm there and suffered only some cuts and bruises.
Sullivan had been on the phone, describing the weather conditions to a meteorologist, when the line went dead and the twister hit, tearing the wooden roof off the store and hurling Sullivan into a cinder-block wall.
"I was levitated and flew 15 feet over there to the back wall," he said. "The only reason I wasn't killed was the wall was still there. After I hit it, it collapsed."
Coroner Ricky Shivers was in his truck when the winds flipped the vehicle. He went to a hospital to have bruised ribs and cuts treated, then went out to help identify bodies in his hospital gown.
National Weather Service meteorologist Marc McAlister said the tornado had winds of 160 miles an hour and left a path of destruction at least 50 miles long.
"The Lord brought us through the fire, and brought us back bigger and better," Thrasher said. "The Lord will bring us back bigger and better this time, if we stick together."