From staff and wire reports
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 people just west of Jackson, the state capital. At least seven people were taken by ambulance to hospitals with injuries from that twister, said Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response. One of those was an elderly woman whose injuries were considered life-threatening. The other six had injuries not considered life-threatening.
Oktibbeha County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan reported the following local weather-related issues:
u Lightning hit a 4-County Electric transformer in Maben, destroying it. The Maben Fire Department responded.
u Lightning hit a townhouse at Highland Estates, causing minor damage. The East Oktibbeha County Firefighters responded. No injuries were reported.
u Flooding was reported throughout the county, but with no injuries or significant property damage.
But areas across the state didn’t escape with such relatively light weather problems.
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 Saturday.
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.
In Clinton, the tornado ripped along U.S. Highway 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.
Lt. Jeffery Scott of the Hinds County Sheriff Department said the high winds caused extensive damage to a bank in Clinton, blowing a portion of the building across the interstate, scattering cars that were parked in the building’s lot and overturning an 18-wheeler truck. Numerous other businesses on U.S. 80 were damaged.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there was extensive damage in Hinds County, where Clinton is located, 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.
Bobby Thames and his wife, Chrystelle, looked over heavy damage to their home. Parts of the roof and garage were missing, and there were tree limbs in the yard. They had just one more payment on their mortgage.
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.
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.
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.
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. Highway 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 them 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.
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.
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.