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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tornadoes slam through central Mississippi

Destructive Tornados sweep across Mississippi

Destructive Tornado West Jackson MS:

CLINTON -- Three suspected tornadoes hit Mississippi on Friday, damaging or destroying dozens of homes and businesses and leaving at least three people critically injured.
The hardest hit was Clinton, a city of about 26,000 just west of Jackson. At least seven people were taken by ambulance to hospitals with injuries from that twister, said Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response ambulance service. One of those was an older woman whose injuries were considered life-threatening. The other six had injuries not considered life-threatening.

A state of emergency was declared for 14 Mississippi counties. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, in consultation with Gov. Haley Barbour who was in South Carolina, issued the declaration Friday. The declaration allows emergency responders to use resources and receive state aid to respond.

Barbour was expected to return to the state today.

Steve Wilkinson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said suspected tornadoes also hit Kemper and Attala counties.

In Kemper County, a tornado destroyed more than a dozen homes and injured at least four people who were treated for minor injuries, said Mary Clark, a sheriff’s office dispatcher.

Danny Townsend, emergency management director in Attala County, said two people were hurt and a mobile home destroyed. Two people were listed in critical but stable condition after being taken to area hospitals.

“It actually blew the mobile home across the road,” Townsend said.

Uprooted and toppled

In Clinton, the tornado ripped along U.S. 80, a busy corridor, about 11 a.m., trampling homes and businesses. The storm uprooted trees, toppled power lines and left city streets cluttered with debris.

Mayor Rosemary Aultman said officials were still assessing the damage, but 45 to 50 homes and 15 to 20 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

The same line of storms left at least nine people dead elsewhere in the U.S.

Hinds County sheriff’s Lt. Jeffery Scott said the high winds caused extensive damage to a bank in Clinton, blowing a portion of the building across the interstate, scattering cars parked in the building’s lot and overturning a tractor-trailer Numerous other businesses on U.S. 80 were damaged.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there was extensive damage in Hinds County, and Interstate 20 was shut down for several hours. Numerous power outages also have been reported across the state.

Clinton is home to Mississippi College, but it was perhaps better known as the headquarters of WorldCom Corp., a telecommunications giant that collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002 after an $11 billion accounting fraud

Picking it up

It didn’t take long for people here to start picking up after the storm.
Bobby Thames and his wife, Chrystelle, looked over heavy damage to their home.
Bobby Thames, 52, pulled out a rake and began cleaning up. He stopped long enough to hug his 3-year-old granddaughter, Makayla, whose blonde curls were in pigtails.

As the dark skies lightened to an overcast gray, residents, volunteers and emergency crews scattered throughout the Easthaven subdivision in Clinton to begin removing trees and pieces of houses from the middle of streets.

People were looking for things to be thankful for, like the fact that nearby Eastside Elementary School had sustained little damage, though houses nearby were destroyed.

Clinton Public Schools District Superintendent Phil Burchfield said the school was without power. Some parents had arrived to pick up their children, but classes did not dismiss early, he said. The school holds about 750 students.

Neighborhood in shambles

Burchfield said the storm damaged an awning and some trees on the grounds but did not cause any significant damage.
Debra Zepponi, 50, looked at her roof damage and was thankful for what she didn’t lose.

Zepponi said that her Yorkshire-Maltese mix dog named Bailey was not hurt, and her mother’s favorite magnolia tree in the yard was the only one left standing.

“I’m glad it didn’t get her tree,” said Zepponi, whose mother died a few years ago.

She said her 92-year-old neighbor recently moved to an assisted living facility.

She looked across the street to his home and saw that it was in shambles.

Phillip Gregory, 23, was at a bank not far from his home when the weather began to worsen on Friday morning.

Gregory, a restaurant cook who worked in the cleanup on the Mississippi Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said he got home about the time a tornado was forming in his neighborhood off U.S. 80 in Clinton, just west of Jackson.

He said he dashed into the house, gathered up his 72-year-old grandmother, Dean Gregory, and got them both into a bathtub. They held a mattress over themselves for protection as the twister hit. Neither was hurt.

“You could just feel the house fall down.

“The whole back side of the house is gone,” he said afterward.

“All you could see was this black cloud,” he said, referring to the tornado as it passed.

‘Let’s get inside’

At Fads and Frames, one of several businesses along a stretch of highway not far from the Gregory home, Claude Clark saw the twister approach.

Clark, 66, a retired Hinds County constable who now manages the greenhouse for the business, said he was standing outside in the lawn section when he saw the tornado approach.
“Stuff started coming up in the air and I said, ‘Let’s get inside.’ We got about halfway in and then we had to hit the floor. Pieces of the roof and glass were flying through the store,” he said.

About a dozen people were in the store, though no one there was hurt.
Heavy rain and hail were reported elsewhere in the state as the spring storm system pushed east, leaving a few mobile homes and other structures damaged.

Molly Davis in Jackson and Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, Associated Press writers, contributed to this report.

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Contributing Sources:

Mega Disasters: Tornado Alley


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