(Photo: Reuters/Rynal Grant/Handout)
Even as the Northeast was still digging out on Sunday after a massive blizzard, a tornado, part of a wave of severe storms, ripped through southern Mississippi, injuring at least a dozen people, damaging hundreds of homes and parts of the University of Southern Mississippi, and causing widespread power outages.
The twister struck a main street of Hattiesburg in Forrest County less than an hour before dark, mangling homes, commercial buildings and structures on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.
At least 10 people were injured in surrounding Forrest County and three were hurt to the west in Marion County, but they weren't aware of any deaths, The Associated Press reported, quoting emergency officials.
About 100 houses or more were damaged or destroyed in Petal, Miss., alone, and several businesses were hard hit there as well, including a hardware store reduced to rubble, Mayor Hal Marx told Reuters. Many residents suffered minor injuries but no one was reported seriously hurt, he added. "Mostly people are just shaken up and in shock."
"It's crazy. Homes were completely destroyed, windows blown out," the Rev. David O'Dell, pastor of the Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg told Los Angeles Times. "You walk down a road and you see people who just lost their home. There was a girl who was covered in debris..."
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in four counties: Forrest, Lamar, Lawrence and Marion.
On the campus of the university in Hattiesburg, trees were snapped in half around the heavily damaged Alumni House where part of the roof was ripped away, according to AP. Windows in a nearby building were blown out, and heavy equipment worked to clear streets nearby in a heavy rain after the worst of the weather had passed.
The university says on its website that campus is closed on Monday. "The university campus remains in a state of emergency, with damage to the Jazz Station, Mannoni Performing Arts Center, Ogletree Alumni House and Elam Arms. But no injuries have been reported."
The Hattiesburg Public School District also canceled classes Monday. The twister caused significant damage to a high school stadium complex and blew a truck onto the school's baseball diamond.
Kris Walters, 40, a Baptist minister for the USM campus, was quoted as saying that he and two of his children took shelter in a closet with a mattress on top of them until the storm passed, adding that his house escaped serious damage. "I have lived here 40 years, and this is the first tornado I have ever seen like this."
As of Sunday night, about 5,600 customers were without power, according to WDAM news.
A search-and-rescue team from the nearby town of McComb was being called in to help look through debris for anyone who might be trapped, according to Emergency management spokesman Greg Flynn.
In neighboring southwestern Alabama, authorities reported a flurry of seven tornadoes across three counties, including one that damaged 46 homes in Clark County, Reuters quoted Weather Service meteorologist Keith Williams as saying.