At least four people were dead and a rescue operation was underway Saturday after a tornado wrecked buildings and left people trapped in their homes in southern MS, the National Weather Service and emergency officials said Saturday.
The National Weather Service office in Jackson dispatched a damage survey team to the area to investigate what was a likely tornado that also damaged buildings in Hattiesburg and Petal, including parts of a college and a fire station, officials said.
Hours after the tornado, authorities were still concerned about downed power lines and potential gas leaks and were encouraging people to stay home, said Hattiesburg police Lt. Allen Murray.
A search and rescue operation is underway in Hattiesburg, a city of about 46,000 people, Mayor Johnny DuPree said before dawn Saturday. Hattiesburg, with its population of 45,000, is the largest city in Forrest County. Some students reporting minor injuries.
"There are widespread power outages as the tornado ran across three counties lines", said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
"Officials working to ensure students are safe".
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William Carey University's campus received so much damage from the tornado that it is now temporarily closed. "Damage to dorms, Tatum Court, Thomas Hall", the university said on Twitter. Dormitories and other buildings were damaged, the school said.
William Carey public relations coordinator Mia Overton reported some students were injured.
The losses are closer to home for Michelle Kirk, who has lived for five years in a Petal subdivision. "Avoid windows. If you are outdoors, in a mobile home, or in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris".
Trees and debris cover the ground after a tornado tornado ripped through the Hattiesburg, Miss., area early Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. It also reported that more severe weather was expected to hit the area between 4 p.m. and midnight on Saturday.
Photos and television images showed the intensity of the damage. Warnings of severe thunderstorms accompanied by a risk for damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes have been issued across parts of the southeast throughout Sunday.
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