Editor's note: Much of this story is based on eyewitness accounts by Starkvile Daily News staff members. More photos from the storm can be found in the photo gallery section of this website.
By BRIAN HAWKINS and PAUL SIMS
Starkville Daily News
What emergency responders believe may have been a tornado cut a swath across multiple areas of south and east Starkville late Monday night, with the heaviest damage centered in a South Louisville Street mobile home park.
Early this morning, Starkville Police Department and Fire Department and Oktibbeha County emergency could not confirm that the storm that hit the city was an actual tornado.
The storm was part of one of several bands of severe thunderstorms that struck the area between 9 p.m. Monday and 1 a.m. Tuesday, with the most severe storm — the one that caused the damage — striking around 11 p.m. after today's print edition of the Starkville Daily News had gone to press.
They did note that the storm was packing heavy winds that were strong enough to knock multiple mobile homes off their foundations and cause extensive damage at the Pines Mobile Home Park at 1000 S. Louisville St. just south of Starkville High School.
Unspecified damage has been documented by police and fire officials in other areas of the city, including Pleasant Acres Subdivision and along University Drive, officials said. The damage included downed power lines and trees being snapped or uprooted, they said.
At the Pines, at least seven mobile homes were deemed destroyed — one of which was turned on its side — and numerous others suffered moderate to major damage. Several had trees fall on them, while others saw wall siding and roof materials ripped off.
The bigger question on officials' minds, though, was the safety of the mobile home park residents.
"As far as we know all are safe. We've had no reports of injuries," said Police Chief David Lindley, who was at the scene along with Fire Chief Rodger Mann and numerous police officers, sheriff's deputies and firefighters. "The trailer park has been searched at least three times by police officers and firefighters. What we've been doing is to trying to verify the locations of all the residents and see if any may be missing."
Multiple vehicles in the mobile home park sustained damaged from debris or trees falling on them.
Multiple electrical lines were down, and multiple natural gas line leaks were reported, including one major line rupture near the mobile home park's northernmost entrance off South Louisville Street. The smell of natural gas was heavy in the air in and around the mobile home park.
Due to safety concerns, all electrical and natural gas service to the mobile home park was to remain cut off until after daybreak today, said Lindley.
Both Lindley and Mann urged residents to stay away from the mobile home park today as cleanup begins and utility line repairs get under way.
Police and fire officials were working with volunteers from Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services (OSERVS) to help find housing for displaced residents of the mobile home park. As this story was being posted, at least 15 residents had been secured rooms at the Regal Inn by OSERVS volunteers, while others left to stay with friends and family.
Those residents whose mobile homes sustained light or no damage were being allowed to stay in their homes early Tuesday morning.
OSERVS director Becky Wilkes said the agency would be accepting monetary donations to help victims of Monday night's storms and replenish funds the agency spent Monday night and this morning.
Since OSERVS has applied for status as non-profit, tax-exempt organization, all donations are tax-deductible, she said.
Donations may be mailed to OSERVS, P.O. Box 443, Starkville, MS 39760, or dropped off at the Starkville Daily News offices at 304 E. Lampkin St. during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) weekdays. A special mailbox for monetary donations has been placed just inside the front door of the SDN offices.
Any checks should be made payable to OSERVS and designated for the storm victims.