Twisters cause major MS damage

Assessments begin following path of storms across Southern states

BY JOHN PAPE | YAZOO CITY, MS | December 1, 2010

One of many structures damaged in Yazoo City by tornadoes.

Dozens of people were injured across the southern states as a spring-like storm system moved through Mississippi triggering a series of tornadoes and flooding rains across the south and into the northeastern U.S.

Although damage was reported across the region, Mississippi was hit particularly hard.

According to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, a total of seven counties reported significant damage as a result of the severe weather and a comprehensive damage assessment began Tuesday morning.

Even as the damage assessments were beginning, faith-based disaster relief organizations were monitoring the survey effort and preparing to mobilize to provide relief and recovery assistance.

Local churches and national organizations including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Lutheran Disaster Response, The United Methodist Committee on Relief and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance were all prepared and on stand-by to provide help to those impacted by the storms.

The Salvation Army and American Red Cross were also staging resources and sending immediate-term relief efforts such as mobile kitchens into the areas.

Initial reports said the cities of Starkville and Yazoo City appeared to have been hardest hit by the storms. Yazoo City is a community of about 15,000 people in the central part of the state; Starkville, in north central Mississippi, has a population of about 22,000 and is home to Mississippi State University.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Lea Crager said her agency had sent a mobile command center to Yazoo City to assist the county.

“We have reports of structural damage to several buildings in the downtown Yazoo City area,” Crager said.

No injuries had been reported in Yazoo County as of midday Tuesday, but the entire downtown area remained blocked off to the public due to damaged structures. The roof of the Yazoo County Courthouse was reportedly damaged and debris was spread throughout the downtown business district.

The city had been under a tornado warning from 7:32 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Monday evening. First reports of damage were received shortly after 8 p.m.

It was the second tornado to strike the community this year. On April 24, a large and deadly EF 4 tornado tore across central Mississippi, damaging numerous structures in Yazoo City and killing 10 people statewide.

State emergency management officials also said six people were injured in Attala County and several mobile homes were seriously damaged by storm winds. The injured were all taken to a hospital in Kosciusko with what were believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.

Additionally, power outages were reported throughout the county and a number of roads were blocked by trees and storm debris.

In Leake County, three structures were reported damaged by winds and power remained out in the Thomastown area.

Several homes were damaged and eleven people injured in Monroe County. Additionally, a radio tower was damaged by winds and the state had sent a mobile communications unit to the area to restore emergency communication capabilities.

There were also reports of homes damaged in Starkville, including extensive damage in The Pines mobile home park near Starkville High School.

Starkville Police Chief David Lindley said seven mobile homes appeared to have been completely destroyed, including one that was turned on its side. Others suffered what the chief called “moderate to major” damage. The chief said search teams had combed the area for victims but found no casualties.

“The trailer park has been searched at least three times by police officers and firefighters. Right now, we’re trying to account for all residents and see if we have any missing,” Lindley said.

The weather service could not immediately confirm whether the damage in Starkville was caused by a tornado, but meteorologist David Lamb said early indications strongly suggested it had been a twister.

“We can’t confirm it as a tornado, but that’s what we expect it was based on what we saw on radar,” Lamb said.

Damage on the Mississippi State University campus was reported to be light, primarily confined to tree limbs down and signs and banners torn away. Student Meaghan Hall was studying with friends at a nearby home when the storm hit.

“I was here for my first semester in the spring when we had tornadoes come through, so when the warning came on the TV, I paid attention. My friends were kidding me about looking out the window all the time, but it was pretty eerie; just like April,” Hall said.

Hall said she kept watching the trees next to the streetlights.

“When I saw the tree limbs start to whip around in all kinds of directions, I told them we need to take shelter,” she said. “I guess I sounded pretty serious because they paid attention and knew I wasn’t joking around.”

While Hall and her friends took shelter in a bathroom beneath a stairwell, they could hear the winds outside and objects striking the house.

“We were lucky; the winds were strong but I guess the tornado missed us. We had one window cracked and a lot of tree limbs and stuff down, but nothing serious,” she said. “That trailer park that got hit is about three miles east of here, so maybe we just got brushed with some of the winds. It was pretty scary; I don’t know if I can do this two times a year.”

Across the state in Warren County, sporadic power outages and trees down were reported and Fisher Ferry Road was closed due to flooding.

Teams from the Mississippi Forestry Service were being sent into affected areas to help with tree and debris removal.

While the storm front appeared to be an almost spring-like weather system, November tornadoes are not uncommon in Mississippi. In fact, it is the third most active month for tornadoes in the Magnolia State. Since 1950, 206 tornadoes have hit the state during November.

The most active month for Mississippi is April with 274 confirmed twisters.

Before hitting Mississippi, the storm system destroyed one home and damaged three others in the tiny Louisiana hamlet of Atlanta. No injuries were reported, but the Winn County Sheriff’s Office said the damage was “more than likely” caused by a tornado.

The 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which connects New Orleans with Mandeville on the north shore of the massive lake, was closed for a time because of high winds associated with the storm. The twin spans were closed from 6:40 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. Monday as the weather system passed through the area.

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