Tornado tears through southern Mississippi

Posted at 7:51 AM, Feb 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-11 09:51:55-05

By Dana Ford

(CNN) — At least seven Mississippi counties are trying to recover from a tornado that touched down Sunday, leaving widespread damage and at least 16 injured.

So far, no one has been reported killed, which authorities hope will remain true.

But at least two people were critically injured in Lamar County, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.

The tornado struck Hattiesburg, the southern Mississippi city that straddles Lamar and Forrest counties.

Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree reported major damage to structures around town. “If there is a good thing about this, it happened on a Sunday when most of these structures were vacant,” he said.

The state emergency management agency said seven counties have reported damage. Several homes were destroyed in Marion County, and numerous homes, businesses and public buildings sustained “significant damage.”

As of Monday morning, about 4,000 power customers are without electricity, Mississippi Power said. That’s an improvement from the 13- to 14,000 customers who were without electricity at one point, but it’s unclear when power would be restored to everyone, spokesman Mark Davis said.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for counties affected. The declaration allows for the use of state resources and assets to support local response efforts, MEMA said.

Hattiesburg is home to the University of Southern Mississippi. It suffered damage to several buildings, but there were no reports of injuries there.

University police declared a state of emergency and urged those not on campus to stay away until further notice.

Nearby Oak Grove High School also suffered damage. Randy Wright posted photographs to his Twitter account of the school, showing debris strewn on what looked to be a parking lot and a truck upside down in a baseball diamond.

The Hattiesburg Public School District canceled classes Monday. The university campus will also be closed.

“There’s quite a few homes without power at this point. Quite a few trees on houses, on cars, that type of thing,” said Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee.

He said between 10 to 15 people were hospitalized, but that none suffered serious injuries.

It was not clear how those people were hurt.

Sarah Lawrence, a Hattiesburg resident, said that the storm sounded like “stuff being thrown.”

“Within seconds, everything changed,” she said. “I didn’t feel like there was much notice. I heard the sirens and everything looked OK outside, so I started making preparations to go into the bathroom. And then, next thing I know, all the lights went out, and it got dark outside.”

CNN’s Maggie Schneider, Chandler Friedman, Elwyn Lopez and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.

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