Severe weather slams Mississippi; 4 killed

columbia tornadoJACKSON — Severe weather slamming the southern U.S. two days before Christmas killed at least four people, flipped cars, knocked out power to thousands and damaged several homes and businesses.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared an emergency for two southeastern counties where officials say four people died in the storms and several more were injured. His office said thousands were without power Tuesday night around Columbia, which is about 80 miles southeast of Jackson.

Jones County Emergency Management director Marda Tullos said a man and woman were killed inside a mobile home in the storm’s path in Laurel. About 50 miles southwest, Marion County coroner Norma Williamson tells WDAM that two people were killed in Columbia. One person was in a trailer park, another at a strip mall.

Marion General Hospital had treated about 50 patients since the severe weather swept through, said spokeswoman Millie Swann.

“The whole town of Columbia is without power,” Swann said. “The hospital is running on generator (power), but was able to treat people in the ER unless they needed a higher level of care.”

Eight patients were transferred to a hospital in nearby Hattiesburg.

Swann said the hospital’s emergency room has since quieted.

“Any time there’s an event like this things get hectic, but health care people are used to working under pressure,” she said.

Photos tweeted by from several local media and the National Weather Service in Jackson showed damage to a Walgreens, car dealership, day care and the strip mall. Several local media said none of the children at the day care were injured.

Meteorologist Latrice Maxie said significant damage has been reported to many homes and businesses in the city of about 6,500 people. A survey team will be sent Wednesday to determine whether a tornado was responsible, she said. Storm spotters said it was.

“It’s chaos over here,” coroner Williamson said. “All the lines are down.”

Marion County Emergency Management director Aaron Greer in the early evening told the Hattiesburg American newspaper that some people were trapped inside their homes. Television footage showed cars, including an ambulance, flipped over and a few businesses wrecked.

Calls from The Associated Press to Greer weren’t immediately returned Tuesday night.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Lt. Johnny Poulos said authorities have shut down the three highways that lead into Columbia because of downed trees, power lines and other debris.

Watches and warnings were out for a swath of Alabama and Georgia with the storms moving toward Atlanta and south into Florida late Tuesday into Christmas Eve.

Earlier Tuesday, according to local media reports, a tornado touched down in Amite, Louisiana, downing several power lines and trees and tearing the roof off at least one home. Golf ball-sized hail fell in Enterprise, Mississippi, along with some pea-sized hail in the Bude area.

Flooding also was forecast in several areas because of several inches of rain piling up.

Already in Tallahassee, Florida, the weather service tweeted that travel was strongly discouraged and that several water rescues were in progress. At least 6 inches of rain had hit the area in a short time.

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