Tornado strikes Hattiesburg; USM declares state of emergency

Before taking shelter, student Jordan Holliman snapped this photo of the tornado at the University of Southern Mississippi. (Jordan Holliman)

From Media Reports

HATTIESBURG – A tornado ripped through historic Hattiesburg Sunday as part of a wave of severe storms that downed trees, damaged buildings and injured more than a dozen people.

Before taking shelter, student Jordan Holliman snapped this photo of the tornado at the University of Southern Mississippi. (Jordan Holliman)

The twister traveled down one of Hattiesburg’s main streets and mangled homes, commercial buildings and structures on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). Emergency officials said at least 10 people were injured in surrounding Forrest County and three were hurt to the west in Marion County, but they weren’t aware of any deaths.

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

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

“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 the campus of the university, 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.

Campus police at USM declared a State of Emergency for the campus Sunday night.

According to their website, thus far, there have been no reports of injuries. But there was damage to “Jazz Station, Mannoni Performing Arts Center, Ogletree Alumni House and Elam Arms, which is vacant.”

Trees were down throughout Hattiesburg after a tornado ripped through the college town Sunday. Weather officials hope to categorize the tornado by Monday. (WDAM photo)

Jordan Holliman, a junior studying international business, said he woke up from a Sunday afternoon nap to a knock on his dorm-room door and a warning about a tornado.

He thought it was a drill and covered his head with his pillow, he told The Times. After a second round of knocking, he hopped out of bed, snapped a picture of the tornado through his window and went downstairs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

After the tornado passed, campus police came around to talk to the handful of students in the dorm. (Most students were gone for the weekend, because they have school off Monday and Tuesday for Mardi Gras.)

USM officials asked students not to return to the Hattiesburg campus until further notice.

East of campus, 47-year-old Cindy Bullock was at home with her husband and dog, a terrier mix named Vinnie, when she heard the tornado coming. They ran to a hallway and covered their heads. It wasn’t long before the windows in the kitchen and bedroom exploded. The storm stripped all the shingles off the roof and left holes in it, while knocking over a large pine tree in the yard.

After dark, the Bullocks were trying to arrange their stuff inside so it wouldn’t get wet from the dripping water.

“I just looked out the window and I heard the rumbling. It sounded like a train.

We ran to the hall, and the kitchen windows and the windows in the bedroom exploded. It happened pretty fast,” she said.

There were large trees blocking the road all through her neighborhood, and several of the houses were hit by falling trees. Her friend was staying with them after the friend’s apartment took a direct hit from a falling tree.

Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee says 10 or 15 people were injured by the tornado that slammed Hattiesburg and other parts of the county – but none of the injuries was serious.

He says, “Most of our injuries have been walking wounded.”

To the west, Marion County emergency director Aaron Greer says three injuries have been reported in the community of Pickwick, about seven miles south of Columbia. He says two people were taken to hospitals, but the third didn’t have the injury examined.

Greer says one mobile home was destroyed, three other structures have major damage and several have minor damage.

Sunday night, John and Katherine Adams were cleaning up around their one-story white house where the storm punched holes in the roof, busted windows and completely destroyed the back porch. The couple was at home with their 7- and 3-year-old daughters when the tornado passed next to their house.

All through the neighborhood, houses and vehicles were damaged by falling trees.

“We’re safe, and that’s all that matters,” said Katherine Adams, 46.

John Adams, who’s in the building supply business, said he was surprised to see broken boards that appeared to be from new construction in his yard because there are no homes being built nearby.

“We’ve got stuff around here; I don’t even know where it came from,” he said.

The National Weather Service planned to assess the damage Monday and determine the intensity, width and track of the tornado.

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