(EDITOR’s NOTE: This story was produced by SDN staffers Colleen McCarthy, Steven Nalley, Leilani Salter andPaul Simms along with information from the Associated Press. The SDN gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo for printing this edition during the power outage.)
Killer tornadoes slammed Mississippi and Alabama during a daylong weather rampage on Wednesday that left at least 11 dead in Mississippi and at least another five dead in Alabama.
The storms also left Starkville and the Mississippi State University campus without power. MSU has a substantial generator system to assist critical functions on campus, but officials were uncertain at press deadline Wednesday when power would be restored in Starkville.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said “the best case scenario” for getting the power outages restored by the Tennessee Valley Authority was Thursday afternoon, the mayor said he was advised by TVA officials.
Structures are down on the TVA transmission system, Starkville Electric Department General Manager Terry Kemp said Wednesday night.
“We’re waiting on a final assessment from TVA on damage and possible solutions. Right now, they have not given us a time frame when to expect restored power,” he said.
MSU officials cancelled exams Thursday at 8 a.m. and and noon Thursday, but said 3 p.m exams would be given as scheduled.
Around the region, Webster and Choctaw counties were hit by a tornado Wednesday morning at approximately 2:30 a.m.
Parts of Clay County were also damaged in the storm. According to Oktibbeha County Emergency Management officials, no tornadoes were reported as of press time.
“It looks as if it came across Wood Junior College outside Mathiston and approached Maben from the west side, and that’s where we had very heavy damage and destruction,” Katherine Rosenhan of the Maben Fire Department said. “It looks like it lifted as soon as it got to the west side of the Maben city limits, and then went down again around the Highway 15 downtown corridor going north-northeast.”
“It has caused extensive damage pretty much county-wide, but concentrated in the Cumberland area,” Jimmy Forrester, deputy sheriff with the Webster County Sheriff’s Department said. “We are staging at the Cumberland Fire Department where we have set up a command center to disperse our workers out and send them wherever they need to be.”
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials confirmed one death each in Choctaw, Webster, Pike, Lafayette and Yazoo counties. Monroe County officials confirmed three deaths in Smithville, which Kemper County officials confirmed three deaths there as well, bringing the Mississippi death toll to at least 11 at the SDN press deadline.
Choctaw County Coroner Keith Coleman said a police lieutenant named Wade Sharp from Covington, La. who was camping with his daughter at Jeff Busby Park died in the storm. The park is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway northwest of Ackerman.
“He covered his daughter with his body when the storm came through to protect her. A tree limb fell and hit him in the head, killing him. The daughter was not hurt. She was still at the campground waiting for family to arrive,” Coleman told The Associated Press.
Rosenhan also confirmed that a Ticky Bend man was also killed in a trailer community near the Fox Fun Quick Stop between Eupora and Mathiston on Highway 82. His identity was not available at press time Wednesday.
East Webster High School in Cumberland suffered severe damage and was closed Wednesday.
EWHS Principal Bill Brand said, “We will try and place students in churches for the remainder of year and have classes. Only one building may be saved and the rest are gone.”
For now, the main focus for emergency crews is clearing the roads and restoring power. Natchez Trace Electric Power lost all power during the storm.
“We did lose all the substations we had. We lost every customer we had about 2:30,” Casey Pulliam, a branch manager with NTEP said. “But at this time, we do have a portion of the substation back on.”
As of press time Wednesday, between 1,500 and 2,000 people in NTEP’s service area were still without power. The company estimates that it could take two days before all power is restored.
4-County Electric Power Association estimates that 1,700 people are still without power, down from the 7,200 that originally lost power Wednesday morning.
“We’ve got at least 160 poles down, and most of that is in the Cumberland Area, and in West Clay County around Montpelier,” Jon Tuner, marketing director for 4-County Electric, said. “Most of the places that were damaged are starting to come back.”
“We’ve had people on the road since it hit this morning, with chainsaws, and cutting trees and trying to clear the roads out so the electric departments can get in and start to work to restore electricity,” Forrester said. “Those people have been out all morning. Emergency personell, from EMS to law enforcement to MEMA to a lot of others, are out as we speak out on the roads cleaning up. Our main source of manpower comes from the volunteer fire department.”
No major injuries were reported, but emergency workers hope to be able to check on residents as soon as possible.
“As soon as they check the road conditions, we are going to set up crews to go out before dark and start a house-to-house check to make sure we can account for everybody,” Forrester said.
MEMA was unable to fully assess the damage in Webster county due to several tornado warnings throughout the day Wednesday. The National Guard is standing by until the assessment determines whether outside help is needed.
For now, emergency workers are asking that people stay off the roads in the hard-hit areas, like Cumberland, unless it is an emergency.
“We’ve had a lot of people driving in, which people are curious and they’re going to do that but we ask that they please not come into an area because crews are still working and that’s a hinderance to our crews,” Forrester said.
A house in Webster County caught fire during the storm, after it was apparently struck by lightning. No one was injured, but the blaze destroyed the entire house.
MEMA confirmed the following damage report statewide:
Cumulative reports by county are:
Adams: Power outages county wide, roads now cleared.
Alcorn: Trees and power lines down, flooding in the city of Corinth.
Attala: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down, roads closed.
Benton: Several roads closed due to flooding.
Carroll: Homes damaged, roads closed.
Choctaw: Homes damaged, trees down and power outages, one death and three injuries.
Clarke: Lightning strike damaged communications center.
Clay: Homes damaged, trees down, power outages.
Coahoma: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down.
Covington: Homes damaged, business damaged, and one injury.
Grenada: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down.
Hinds: Trees and power lines down throughout county.
Holmes: Damage reported in Lexington near the Sheriff’s office.
Issaquena: Homes and a church damaged, trees down.
Kemper: Homes damaged, schools closed.
Lafayette: Damage to structures in Oxford area, trees and power lines down, one death reported from vehicle accident, two injuries.
Lauderdale: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down.
Leake: Homes and businesses damaged in city of Carthage.
Leflore: Homes damaged, power lines down.
Marshall: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down, roads damaged.
MS Band of Choctaw Indians: Homes damaged, trees down.
Monroe: Homes damaged, injuries reported, power lines down, roads closed due to debris.
Montgomery: Trees and power lines down.
Neshoba: Mobile home damaged, trees down.
Newton: Homes damaged, all schools closed due to weather.
Panola: Homes damaged, roads closed, trees down and widespread power outages.
Pike: Homes damaged, trees down power outages, one death and two injuries.
Pontotoc: Trees and power lines down throughout county.
Prentiss: Homes damaged, trees down, roads affected by debris.
Rankin: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down, several roads closed.
Scott: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down.
Smith: Trees down and power outages.
Sunflower: Business and trailer damaged, power lines down, one injury reported.
Tallahatchie: Widespread power outages.
Tate: Widespread flooding, four injuries from school bus accident.
Tippah: Homes damaged, trees and power lines down.
Tishomingo: Homes and businesses damaged, trees and power lines down in Belmont area.
Tunica: Flash flooding in the county and city of Tunica.
Union: Homes damaged, minor injury reported, clearing roads to assess damage.
Webster: Homes damaged, two deaths and 15 injuries reported.
Yalobusha: Mobile home damaged, trees and power lines down.
Yazoo: Homes damaged, several roads closed.