As the northeast dug out from a major blizzard Monday morning, the southeast started to clean up after a tornado struck Sunday afternoon. Hattiesburg, Miss., a city of 50,000 and home to the University of Southern Mississippi, was in the storm’s destructive path: the tornado tore through a main street and caused damage to university buildings.
Hattiesburg, in the southeast corner of Mississippi near the Gulf of Mexico, suffered no fatalities; the 17,000-student university is closed Monday and Tuesday for Mardi Gras, meaning many students had left town. The university noted that four buildings were damaged in the tornado, leaving the campus in a “state of emergency,” according to the college’s website.
At a news conference Monday, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant said that 60 people were treated for injuries and more than 200 houses and mobile homes were swept up in the twister. Bryant declared a state of emergency across seven counties in the state, as rain continued to pound the region Monday and power outages persisted. He said fatalities were luckily avoided thanks to tornado sirens, which sounded up to 30 minutes before the twister arrived, giving residents ample time to take shelter. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn told the Associated Press it appears a single tornado caused widespread damage in three counties in southern Mississippi.
“It sounded like Katrina,” Hattiesburg resident Charlotte Walters told the AP Sunday evening, the memories of the devastating 2005 hurricane still fresh for many Gulf natives. According to the Storm Prediction Center, there were 15 reported tornadoes on the ground Sunday across Mississippi and Alabama.