At least four people were killed in southern Mississippi early Saturday when a destructive tornado roared through the Hattiesburg area, leveling homes, ripping off roofs and tossing trees into roadways across the region.
The city of Hattiesburg on Twitter and Forrest County emergency management confirmed the deaths. Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict said two of the fatalities were in a trailer park.
According to Benedict, the victims were identified as Ernest Perkins, 58, and David Wayne McCoy, 47, who were found in the trailer park, Simona Cox, 72, and Cleveland Madison, 20.
Numerous injuries were also reported in the city of 48,000.
The tornado tore the area around 4 a.m., with strong winds causing extensive damage in various blocks of Hattiesburg. As dawn broke, city dwellers awoke to find trees, huge limbs, and poles wrapped in rubbish-power lines in the streets beside decimated and severely damaged houses. Almost 15,000 houses and businesses were without power.
"The total cleanup of debris will be weeks at this time," said Lee Smithson, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Just south of downtown Hattiesburg, Edna Smith examined her house now with no roof. The tornado threw most of its roof into the backyard and alley, leaving the rain free to run inside where it turned into mud wallboard and soaked upholstered furniture.
"It woke me up and half the roof is gone," she told The Associated Press. "I do not know what I'm going to do now"
In the Hattiesburg Salvation Army, Captain Patrick Connelly began to assess the damage. "Before the first light, I could tell that there were blown windows and still water in the buildings," he said.
Connelly said the destructive winds shelled roofs in almost every campus building, which includes a homeless shelter, church sanctuary, administrative offices, and a Boys and Girls Club for after school programs.
"This will not stop us. In fact, we will have food trucks on our campus feeding lunch to those in the area who are in need," he said.
Glen Moore, director of the Forrest County Emergency Management Agency, said there were several reports of people being held in houses. State and local emergency responders coordinated rescue missions in the hours before dawn on Saturday when another severe timeline swept.
At one point, students at the Hattiesburg campus of the University of Southern Mississippi were directed to cover. The university also reported extensive flooding at various locations on campus. The National Weather Service said three to five inches of rain fell, increasing the threat of flooding.
The National Weather Service said the harshest weather is expected in the area between 4 pm and midnight. Meteorologist Latrice Maxie said there is a danger of more tornadoes, but the greater risk lies further north.
The storm line will also push east later Saturday in parts of Alabama, Georgia, northern Florida and southern South Carolina, bringing the chance of damaging winds, hail, floods and tornadoes. On Sunday, storms must form in a storm line, with a high risk of damaging winds and the potential for some tornadoes, AccuWeather reported.
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 National Weather Service said more severe weather is expected in the area between 4 p.m. and midnight. Meteorologist Latrice Maxie said there is the danger of more tornadoes, but the greatest risk is farther north.
The line of storms will also push east later Saturday across parts of Alabama, Georgia, northern Florida and far southern South Carolina, bringing the chance of damaging winds, hail, flash flooding and tornadoes. On Sunday, the thunderstorms are expected to form into a squall line, with a high risk of damaging winds and the potential for a few tornadoes, AccuWeather reported.