The initial tornado damage assessment of the University of Southern Mississippi is better than what university officials expected. "The great majority of the campus is just fine," USM administrator Joe Paul told the media this morning. "It could have been much, much worse."
The university's front door area near Hardy Street sustained most of the tornado damage. At least six campus buildings have some sort of tornado damage. "We've still go work to do to make sure the grounds are safe," said Paul.
According to Gov. Phil Bryant, 63 people went to the hospital after the tornado cut a 75 mile path through Marion, Forrest and Lamar Counties. "I'm honored and proud to say there are no known fatalities," the governor said.
About 200 homes sustained storm damage. So did 100 apartments. At the height of the storm, 13,339 people lost power. That number was down to 4,300 at the time of the 9:45 am news conference.
Governor Bryant issued a State of Emergency for Forrest, Lamar, Lawrence and Marion due to the impacts of severe storms and tornadoes.
"As local and state officials work together to assess the damages, this State of Emergency will help expedite the support needed," Gov. Bryant said.
Buildings at the Hattiesburg campus of the University of Southern Mississippi were damaged. The USM police department also issued a State of Emergency for that campus.
USM's web page states: Damage has been confirmed to Jazz Station, Mannoni Performing Arts Center, Ogletree Alumni House and Elam Arms, which is vacant. Please avoid those areas of campus. Electricity is available on the Freshman Quad area of campus.
"There are plenty of residential gas leaks, but we are shutting them down as we get them. There are plenty of down trees, debris and road closures," Hopkins explained.
Authorities suggest Hattiesburg residents avoid lighting candles or cigarettes because of those gas leaks.
Two shelters in Forrest County are open:
Forrest County Community shelter on Sullivan Drive by the Multipurpose Center.
Civic Center in Petal located on Main Street.
"We are working with law enforcement to get people in these shelters," Hopkins said.
There are also reports of several power outages in Forrest County. Hardy Street in Hattiesburg is blocked at 31st Street. Motorists should avoid Hardy Street.
According to the American Red Cross Mississippi Region, the American Red Cross is responding to damage in multiple counties. They are working with local emergency management agencies in Lamar and Forrest counties to assist with sheltering for those affected by possible tornadic activity.
Red Cross officials also said, reports indicate more than 50 families may need to seek refuge in Forrest County's shelters.
"The Red Cross operates under a regional structure and shares resources in multiple offices and facilities throughout Mississippi for expanded service delivery," said Joshua Joachim, Chief Operations Officer for the American Red Cross Mississippi Region. "Although we have confirmed substantial damage to our Red Cross office in Hattiesburg rendering it inoperable, we are pulling resources from our other locations and will continue to meet the disaster-caused needs of those affected by tonight's storms." Additionally, no staff or volunteers were injured.
To make contributions call 1-800-RED CROSS, donate online at www.mississippi-redcross.org, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation; charges will be applied to the cell phone bill.
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