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Storm cuts electricity for 14,000 in Warren

Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent James Price stands on the roof of Warren Central High School surveys damage Sunday after high winds ripped away part of the roof, allowing rain to dump inside.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[6/28/04]A burst of wind lasting only minutes caused widespread damage Sunday afternoon and cleanup continued today.

Half of Entergy’s customers in Warren County lost power and thousands were still without service at midmorning.

At Warren Central High School, the news was grim. “I guess all things considered we were lucky we didn’t have any kids in here,” Superintendent James Price said.

The roof over the 40-year-old gymnasium was damaged, exposing the inside to rain falling most of the afternoon. About 2 inches of water sat on the hardwood floor as school personnel started mopping up.

Price said repairs could cost around $1 million. The school has about 1,100 students who are expected to return for the 2004-2005 school year on Aug. 5. Summer school students were sent to other buildings today.

Less than an inch of rain was measured Sunday, but it was ample to shatter a century-old record and set a new all-time high mark. With two days to go and rain in the forecast just more than 11 inches of rain has fallen in June. The National Weather Services says about 3 inches is normal and the previous record was 9.69 inches in 1909.

In yards, parks and along streets, some trees were knocked down with roots still intact, while others were snapped in half by the high wind that hit about 2 p.m. ahead of a heavy thunderstorm that moved north and east across the county. The burst knocked out power to about 14,000 of Entergy’s 27,000 customers.

As of this morning, about 3,700 customers were still without power. Phone and cable TV lines were also downed or severed in many areas. No injuries requiring hospitalization were reported.

Entergy spokesman Cheryl Comans said a realistic estimate for having power back on to everyone is midnight.

“We had a lot of broken poles and a lot of spans of wire down all over the place,” Comans said.

The Warren County Courthouse, 911 Dispatch Center and the Warren County Jail were without electricity for several hours. Both the jail and 911 operated on generators.

Skipper Whittington, a supervisor with the Vicksburg Street Department, said it could take up to a week to clean up all the damage.

“It was a lot worse than usual,” Whittington said.

This morning, there were about 13 Entergy crews out in the county, including crews called in from as far away as Southaven to help restore power, Comans said.

Those efforts could be hindered by a 60 percent chance of rain and more heavy thunderstorms expected to pass through Louisiana and Mississippi today and this evening. L.W. “Bump” Callaway, director of Warren County Emergency Management, said the worst of that is expected to hit north of here, but that already-saturated ground could give way under high gusts of wind.

“It’s probably going to rain and we’re probably going to have some high wind and we’re probably going to lose some more trees,” Callaway said.

The National Weather Service in Jackson is calling for gusts of wind up to 50 mph ahead of that storm.

“Our normal forecast for this time of year is a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms and that’s on a good day, and today ain’t a good day,” Callaway said.

Damage was reported from as far north as Eagle Lake south to Jeff Davis Road. Minor damage was reported to homes across the county and at least one mobile home on Mount Alban Road near U.S. 80 was destroyed by a falling tree, Callaway said.

Fallen trees shut down both lanes of traffic on Interstate 20 between Vicksburg and Bovina for a few minutes and shut down parts of U.S. 80, Warriors Trail, Mount Alban, Bowie, Glass, Dana, Grange Hall, Redwood and Oak Ridge roads. Estimates were that about 100 trees countywide were knocked down.

Inside the city, there were about 30 calls of trees on the roadways. Parts of Drummond Street, Farmer Street and Chapel Hills were blocked.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said there was one injury related to the storm when a tree limb fell on a man’s foot while he was clearing debris on his property off U.S. 80 after the storm. Pace said the man was treated at River Region Medical Center.

He said there were also some wrecks across the county and a few cars that went off the road, but there were no major injuries in any of those.

Price said the challenge will be moving quickly to avert more damage to the school.

“The real issue for us is weather reports for the next week are nothing but rain,” Price said.

In addition to the roof damage, several trees on the school campus were uprooted or broken by the heavy winds, some rooftop air conditioner units were moved and three classrooms had received water damage.

Looking over the scene, Price described it as “one hell of a mess.”

Last year, a spring storm blew the roof off Redwood Elementary School. Those repairs cost the district $54,900.

Terry Winschel of the Vicksburg National Military Park reported some small trees knocked down there, but no roads blocked. He said debris was being cleared this morning.