Storms rip through state; Clinton sees most damage

Published 12:30 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

Three suspected tornadoes swept though the state Friday, damaging or destroying dozens of homes and businesses and leaving at least three people critically injured.

The hardest hit was Clinton, a city of about 26,000 just east of Vicksburg. At least seven people were taken by ambulance to hospitals with injuries, said Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response. One of those was an elderly woman whose injuries were considered life-threatening.

A state of emergency was declared for 14 counties, including Warren, Hinds and Issaquena. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, in consultation with Gov. Haley Barbour who was in South Carolina but expected to return to the today, issued the declaration Friday. It allows emergency responders to use resources and receive state aid to respond.

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In Vicksburg, 19 reports of downed trees were relayed by Vicksburg Warren E-911 dispatchers to Warren County Emergency Management, EMA director Gwen Coleman said. Three homes were hit by trees, including a trailer on Berryman Road. No injuries were reported there, Coleman said.

Winds in Warren County topped at about 65 mph and were believed to be from straight-line thunderstorms, said meteorologist Alan Campbell with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

On Oakwood Drive, Jerry Huie had just entered the bedroom of his home Friday morning when an oak tree crashed through his roof.

“It all happened in five seconds,” said Huie, who had a few cuts and scratches. “I was watching the weather reports about it.”

His backyard neighbors, Trae and Dana Wells, were alerted by their home security system that an oak had crushed part of their Inglewood Drive home — delaying an important decorating job.

“We were both at work,” said Dana Wells, who wanted to use the room as a nursery once the couple’s child is born. “Before the baby gets here, we’ll have to rebuild it.”

At the height of the storm, power was out for 146 Entergy Mississippi customers in Warren County, mainly south of town, spokesman Don Arnold said. The outages included LeTourneau Technologies’ fabrication yard, where crews worked through the evening to get back on the grid, Arnold said.

On U.S. 61 South, a tree fell on an 18-wheeler, causing a wreck, and one parked vehicle was crushed by a falling tree, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said.

North of the city, near Cary, a fatal wreck was reported, but a spokesman with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol was unavailable for details.

Steve Wilkinson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said suspected tornadoes also hit Kemper and Attala counties.

In Kemper County, a tornado destroyed more than a dozen homes and injured at least four people who were treated for minor injuries, said Mary Clark, a sheriff’s office dispatcher.

Danny Townsend, emergency management director in Attala County, said two people were hurt and a mobile home destroyed. Two people were listed in critical but stable condition after being taken to area hospitals.

“It actually blew the mobile home across the road,” Townsend said.

In Clinton, the tornado ripped along U.S. 80, a busy corridor, about 11 a.m., trampling homes and businesses.

Mayor Rosemary Aultman said officials were still assessing the damage, but 45 to 50 homes and 15 to 20 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Lt. Jeffery Scott of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department said wind caused extensive damage to a bank in Clinton, blowing a portion of the building across Interstate 20, scattering cars that were parked in the building’s lot and overturning an 18-wheeler truck. Numerous other businesses on U.S. 80 were damaged.

Interstate 20 at Clinton was shut down for several hours.

The same line of storms that hit Mississippi left at least 10 people dead elsewhere across the nation.