Homes Wrecked, Dozens Hurt in Mississippi Tornado

Charlie Ramp salvages guns from his damage home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. A tornado damaged the area Sunday afternoon.
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By HOLBROOK MOHR and JANET MCCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Residents shaken by a tornado that mangled homes in Mississippi were waking up Monday to a day of removing trees, patching roofs and giving thanks for their survival. More than 60 in the state were injured.

Daylight also offered emergency management officials the chance to get a better handle on the damage that stretched across several counties. Gov. Phil Bryant planned visited Hattiesburg, where a twister moved along one of the city's main streets and damaged buildings at the governor's alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi.

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More than 60 people were treated for injuries, and 200 homes and mobile homes were damaged or destroyed, Bryant said at a news conference Monday. However, no lives were lost and no one was unaccounted for. Bryant and other officials said that was in part because tornado sirens gave people as much as 30 minutes of warning that a tornado was approaching.

Also, the University of Southern Mississippi was on Mardi Gras holiday, so there were fewer students on campus. Businesses were either closed or not very crowded because it was Sunday.

It was raining Monday, and people began trying to salvage what they could in one damaged neighborhood. Some people walked around fallen trees, power lines, smashed cars and other debris to carry belongings away.

The rain was supposed to continue through the day, and more severe weather was expected Tuesday. National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Bryant in Jackson, Miss., said tornadoes aren't expected, but heavy rain is likely to continue.

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Charlotte Walters, 61, and her daughter Heather Walters, 30, were moving buckets and bowls around inside their house trying to catch water pouring through holes in the roof. The women were at home along with Charlotte's husband when a relative called and said a tornado was headed their way.

"It sounded like Katrina," said Charlotte Walters, who lives in a neighborhood also hit by the 2005 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast.

Besides holes in the roof of her one-story wood frame house, a falling tree had damaged the side and another one collapsed on her carport, denting and breaking windows in three cars there.

"I'm blessed. At least I don't have one of those in my house," Charlotte said, pointing to a tree that had fallen onto a neighbor's house next door.

Marie Key, 68, was hoping to salvage what she could Monday morning. She was alone in her one-story brick house when the storm hit Sunday. She heard the tornado coming and dove under a kitchen table.

At least three trees hit her house, which she said was also damaged during Hurricane Katrina and another storm in 1998. The fallen trees blocked the front and back doors and a neighbor had to pull the limbs away so she could get out. She had a bruised forehead Monday and some other scratches but was otherwise uninjured.

"I'm lucky, I know that," Key said, fighting back tears as she spoke. "I'm kind of past the 'poor me' part of it. This is so widespread and it's happening in so many places. I'm going to be all right."

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said it appears a single tornado caused the damage in Forrest, Marion and Lamar counties. Hundreds of homes are damaged in Forrest County, along with a couple dozen in the other two.

Flynn said the sheer scope of the damage was slowing officials' assessment.

"The problem is, it was so strong that there's so much debris that there's a lot of areas they haven't been able to get to yet," he said.

On campus, trees were snapped in half around the heavily damaged Alumni House where part of the roof was ripped away. 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 released a statement saying no one was hurt but that it was under a state of emergency, and anyone away from campus should stay away until further notice.