(UPDATE) Storm system leaves one dead; assessments continuing
SHUQUALAK — Damage assessments were continuing this morning after a deadly tornado and other severe weather pounded Mississippi and other states.
In Kemper County, where one person died and five were injured, Emergency Management Agency director Ben Dudley said officials hope to have a better understanding of the amount of damage later today.
Dudley said at least 15 homes and structures were damaged by a tornado that swept through yesterday in his county, but those numbers could go up.
Dudley said one person was killed and another injured at a business called Contract Fabricators Inc. in Kemper County. He said five other people in the county were injured, one seriously.
Noxubee County Emergency Management Agency director Bobby Mann said a few people in his county had minor injuries like cuts and bruises.
He said damage assessments would have to continue Friday because some roads in the county were too flooded to get through yesterday. He said the tornado went the length of the county.
A family in Shuqualak in Noxubee County said two of their relatives were taken to a hospital when the home they were in was blown apart.
Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in Kemper and Noxubee counties late yesterday. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there’s damage in at least five counties.
The National Weather Service planned to send crews to Kemper County to study damage patterns in order to measure the storm’s strength.
In Shuqualak, Kathy Coleman, 57, said she was outside her home signing for a delivery of her dialysis medication when the deliveryman hustled her back in to the house. Coleman said she, the deliveryman and her housekeeper huddled in the bathroom as the storm hit.
“All I could hear was trees breaking and falling and glass. He started praying and I started praying. Thank God he was here,” she said.
Trees crashed into the back of her one-story brick home, breaking windows and knocking out a back door. The bathroom where they took shelter was not damaged.
Several large trees were knocked down in front and back of her house and power lines snaked across her yard.
Coleman said she would have to stay in a hotel or some other place with electricity so she could have her dialysis treatment.
Cindy Moore, 56, was at her parents’ house while her sister and niece were in a small apartment nearby when she looked up and saw debris flying through the air. She huddled with her parents in a center room of their house until the storm passed.
When she looked out the window, Moore said she saw that the concrete block building where her sister and niece were was flattened. Part of the roof hung in trees across the street and their belongings — clothes and furniture — were scattered through the yard and settled among tree limbs and other debris.
She worried that her sister and niece had been killed.
“I went running over there and I saw my niece’s head pop up. She was standing up. I couldn’t believe they were alive,” Moore said. “It was God’s hands. That’s all it was. God’s hands wrapped around them.”
Both women were taken to the hospital and treated for cuts and bruises, but suffered no life-threatening injuries.
Charlie Higginbotham, 90, Moore’s father, walked slowly around the destroyed structure, with his hands clasped behind his back as his children and grandchildren sifted through the debris trying to salvage anything they could.
The family got especially excited at one point when they found a family member’s baby book.
“I don’t know how they got out of there without getting hurt worse, but somehow they did,” Higginbotham said.
East Mississippi Electric Power Association said 4,500 customers were without power in Kemper County as of 5 p.m. Thursday, and that two TVA transmission lines had multiple broken poles, meaning electricity wasn’t flowing to the cooperative’s distribution system.
“Due to damage to TVA’s transmission system, there are limits to the amount of power that can be restored until these transmission lines are repaired,” spokeswoman Julie Boles wrote. “EMEPA is not able to restore power to the southern and eastern portions of Kemper County … until damage to TVA’s transmission system is repaired.”
MEMA has released a preliminary assessment of damage in the following counties:
- Clarke: One home major damage, one home with minor damage.
- Clay: Trees down in the Cedar Bluff Community. Minor roof damage to a few homes.
- Forrest: At least one home damaged. Minor damage to a fire station.
- Harrison County: Trees down throughout the county. Minor street flooding.
- Kemper: One death and five injuries. Several home and at least one business damaged.
- Noxubee: Trees and power lines down in the Shuqulak and Macon areas.
- Quitman: Several buildings damaged and roads closed near Marks.
4-County Electric Power Association is reporting 2,900 members without power, primarily in Noxubee County.
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