At least four people were killed in southern Mississippi early Saturday when a destructive tornado roared through the Hattiesburg area.
The tornado ripped through the area just before 4 a.m., with strong winds that leveled homes, ripped off roofs and tossed trees into roadways across the region.
Two of the fatalities were in a trailer park. Numerous injuries were also reported. Nearby Lamar and Perry counties and the city of Petal were also hard hit.
The tornado ripped through the area just before 4 a.m., with strong winds that caused extensive damage in several blocks of Hattiesburg.
As dawn rose, city residents awoke to destroyed buildings, downed power lines and missing roofs.
Trees, massive limbs and poles wrapped in power lines littered streets next to decimated and severely damaged homes, and many areas of the city were without power.
At the Hattiesburg Salvation Army, Captain Patrick Connelly began assessing the damage. “Before first light, I could tell there were windows blown out and standing water in the buildings,” he said.
Connelly said the destructive winds peeled back the roofs on nearly every building of the campus, which includes a homeless shelter, church sanctuary, administrative offices, and a Boys and Girls Club for after-school programs.
“This won’t stop us. In fact, we will have feeding trucks on our campus feeding lunch to those in the area who are in need,” he said.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, chief executive of the city of 48,000 people, told WDAM-TV that several city buildings were damaged by the storm, including a mass transit building that “is probably destroyed.”
Fire station number 2 downtown took a direct hit, WDAM reported. Electricity crews were on the scene because power lines blocked one of the firetrucks.
Brent Barfield, spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, told WDAM-TV that in Petal there are “gas leaks everywhere.”
The severe weather slammed several counties in the area, causing extensive damage, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported.
Interstate 59 north of the city was closed because of debris and downed power lines. Search and rescue teams were dispatched to help local authorities, who urged residents to avoid traveling.
At one point, students at the Hattiesburg campus of the University of Southern Mississippi were directed to take cover. The university also reported extensive flash flooding at several locations on campus. The National Weather Service said three to five inches of rain fell, raising the threat of flooding.
The line of storms will push east Saturday across parts of Alabama, Georgia, northern Florida and far southern South Carolina, bringing chance of damaging winds, hail, flash flooding and tornadoes. On Sunday, the thunderstorms are expected to form into a squall line, bringing a high risk of damaging winds and the potential for a few spin-up tornadoes.