"He was a hell of an investigator," said Capt. Jack West, his colleague in Louisiana.
Also in Mississippi, a man was crushed in his mobile home when a tree fell during the storm, a truck driver died after hitting a downed tree on a state highway and a member of a county road crew was killed when he was struck by a tree they were removing.
By late Wednesday, the death toll had increased to 11 for the day, said Mississippi Emergency Management Association spokesman Jeff Rent. The governor also made an emergency declaration for much of the state.
Storms also killed two people in Georgia and one in Tennessee on Wednesday. Aside from the 39 deaths on Wednesday, one person was killed by the same storm system late the previous night in Arkansas.
In eastern Tennessee, a woman was killed by falling trees in her trailer in Chattanooga. Just outside the city in Tiftonia, what appeared to be a tornado also struck at the base of the tourist peak Lookout Mountain.
Tops were snapped off trees and insulation and metal roof panels littered the ground. Police officers walked down the street, spray-painting symbols on houses they had checked for people who might be inside.
Mary Ann Bowman, 42, stood watching from her driveway as huge tractors moved downed trees in the street. She had rushed home from work to find windows shattered at her house, and her grandmother's house next door shredded. The 91-year-old woman wasn't home at the time.
"When I pulled up I just started crying," Bowman said.
Many around the region were happy to survive unscathed even if their houses didn't. In Choctaw County, Miss., 31-year-old Melanie Cade patched holes in her roof after it was heavily damaged overnight.
Cade was in bed with her three children when the storm hit.
"The room lit up, even though the power was out. Stuff was blowing into the house, like leaves and bark. Rain was coming in sideways," she said, adding that they managed to scurry into a bathroom.
"I didn't care what happened to the house," Cade said. "I was just glad we got out of there."
Reeves reported from Birmingham. Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle in Edom, Texas, Andrew DeMillo and Nomaan Merchant in Vilonia, Ark., Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson, Miss., Bill Fuller and Alan Sayre in New Orleans, Dorie Turner in Atlanta, Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.
- Allow student loan bankruptcies, but hold...
- Police, protesters collide again in Ferguson
- 'Don't know' if Missouri teen shot with hands up
- Texas Gov. Perry assembles high-powered legal...
- The Los Angeles Unified School District ducks...
- Want to increase attraction in your...
- Car crash in Argentina kills 3 relatives of pope
- Measuring the impact of a MOOC course can be...
- Texas Gov. Perry says indictment is... 22
- 'Don't know' if Missouri teen shot with... 22
- Obama heading back to DC in rare... 20
- Texas' Perry indicted for coercion for... 19
- Police identify Missouri officer who... 16
- Police, protesters collide again in... 15
- Allow student loan bankruptcies, but... 14
- Emerging solar plants scorch birds in... 13