Bad weather hits state

Published 4:52 pm Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ground crews moved through tornado-targeted areas of north Mississippi on Wednesday to examine damage left by the deadly storms that injured at least 14 people, apparently none critically.

“We were lucky. There could have been deaths and more extensive damage,” said Lea Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “As it is, we’ve got six counties reporting some kind of damage.”

The hardest hit areas were in Lafayette County north of Oxford and in the Southaven area of DeSoto County just south of Memphis, Tenn. Scattered damage was reported in Alcorn, Warren, Bolivar and Marshall counties. Power outages and downed trees were reported in some areas.

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The massive storm system swept across Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas as Super Tuesday primaries were ending, leaving a trail of deaths, injuries and damage. Early Wednesday, the storms hit Alabama, causing additional problems.

Twenty-four people were killed in Tennessee, 13 killed in Arkansas, seven killed in Kentucky and four killed in Alabama, emergency officials said.

The storm was part of a system that caused severe damage to the Caterpillar plant in Oxford.

Lafayette County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Jimmy Allgood said it could have been much worse.

“Right now the only injuries we know of are some broken bones,” Allgood said. “We know we have homes damaged, some with major damage. We’re still getting those reports from the field.”

Jon Scott, news editor of The Oxford Eagle, said Wednesday he was teaching a journalism lab at the University of Mississippi when the sirens were activated.

He said students in his class had been tracking the storm on their computers and class was dismissed early. He said the sirens could be heard on campus.

“About 30 minutes later the university sent out a mass e-mail that classes were canceled for the rest of the evening,” Scott said. “There was no damage on campus and I didn’t learn of the damage in the county until I got home.”

Several homes were reported as destroyed or seriously damaged off a rural road east of Abbeville in northern Lafayette County.

Allied Enterprises, a sheltered workshop for disabled adults, Elliott Lumber Co. and a county-owned warehouse building also were damaged extensively. Sheriff’s deputies from Lafayette and Yalobusha counties joined Mississippi Highway Patrol and Oxford Police to control access and traffic in the affected areas.

There was no doubt that it was a tornado that caused the Lafayette County damage, Allgood said. When warnings were issued, Allgood said he was able to spot the twister just as it touched down.

“It’s not every day you see a tornado,” he said.

Eleven people, ranging in age from infants to senior citizens, were treated at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford, said Peyton Warrington, the facility’s assistant administrator.

In DeSoto County, Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Steve Atkinson said a tornado shredded warehouses in an industrial park in the city of Southaven, which is located just south of Memphis. He said he was not aware of any injuries there.

“It ripped the warehouses apart. The best way to describe it is it looks like a bomb went off,” Atkinson said.

Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and Police Chief Tom Long said damage to residential areas in their city was light.

“We were about as lucky as we could be in a storm,” Davis said.

More than 6,000 homeowners in Southaven were without electrical power initially. Power was restored to 4,000 by 8 p.m. Tuesday. The rest of the outages, in heavily damaged areas, would take longer to repair.

Power was also knocked out in the Southaven High School area, but school officials were hoping to have the outage corrected in time for classes on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in North Mississippi, a tornado was reported on the ground in Tate County, a spokesman for the Tate County Sheriff’s Department said, but there were no reported injuries and no buildings had received heavy damage.

What officials called an unconfirmed tornado in Bolivar County in the Mississippi Delta ripped the roof off a mobile home and blew over a gas pump. There were also reports of hail and strong gusts in several north Mississippi counties.