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'Our whole town is just gone'

By Ron Mott, NBC News Correspondent

Smithville, Mississippi will never be the same. It can't be. Not when at least 13 people here in this community of about 900 died Wednesday after a powerful tornado ripped through town, destroying nearly everything in its path.

After surveying the damage from the tornados across the Southeast on Thursday, the National Weather Service upgraded its estimate of the storm's fury to a rare EF-5 rating. The winds at the twister’s peak are estimated to have reached 205 miles an hour – which rates it as an EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. That is the highest level for tornado damage and the first EF-5 in Mississippi since March 3, 1966.

Phillip Lockhart was in his recently opened pizzeria with two of his employees when he looked out the window and saw the funnel cloud headed right at them from a few football fields away.

Thomas Wells / AP

An aerial of a single block of Smithville Ms., on Thursday shows how much destruction the small town took on Wednesday leaving at least 13 dead and the town destroyed.

Thinking there was no chance to survive inside the restaurant, they jumped in his truck and took off as fast as they could, with debris swirling all around them, slamming into the pickup.

In about 10 seconds, it was all over. And, in many respects, so was Smithville. The old Smithville.

"Never been so scared before," Lockhart said. "Our whole town is just gone."

City Hall. Gone. The police department. Obliterated. Grocery store, funeral home, scores of houses. Mountains of rubble.

The clean-up here will be extensive. Rebuilding will be a significant challenge, but one that residents are business owners like Lockhart say they're ready to tackle.