Lewin, Miss. (AP) — Multiple tornadoes ripped through Mississippi overnight, killing one person and injuring nearly two dozen, officials said Monday.
State emergency workers were still working with counties to assess damage from high temperatures and hail storms that accompanied the tornado in some areas. Deaths and injuries were reported by authorities in Jasper County, east Mississippi.
The small, rural town of Leuven bore the brunt of the damage. Drone footage and photos showed vast expanses of debris-covered terrain, destroyed homes and uprooted trees. At least one person was lifted from the wreckage on a stretcher.
Standing in front of his damaged home on Monday, Lester Campbell told The Associated Press that his cousin, 67-year-old George Gene Hayes, was the dead man. Jones County Coroner Don Sumrall, reached by phone Monday, said Hayes was pronounced dead at 2:18 a.m. from “multisystem shock.”
Campbell slept in his recliner Sunday evening. He woke up after the lights went out in the middle of the night. After going to the kitchen to get something from the fridge, the tornado hit.
“It happened so fast,” Campbell said. “It sounded like a train going, ‘roar, roar, roar’.”
He dropped to the floor and crawled to his bedroom closet, where his wife had already taken refuge. The hurricane had passed before reaching the shelf.
Campbell said he heard calls for help from across the street where Hayes lived in a trailer home. She came out of her home to find her cousin with a bloody forehead and leg being loaded into an ambulance by emergency personnel. He was conscious when he saw her, but died before reaching the hospital, he said.
Most of the injured in Jasper County, including Hayes, were taken to South Central Regional Medical Center in Laurel between 2 and 3 a.m., facility spokeswoman Peggy Collins said. About 20 people had bruises and cuts. Most were in stable condition on Monday morning.
Eric Carpenter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said an unseasonably strong jet stream was blowing through the area. A tornado appeared near Lewes before traveling at least 7 miles (11 kilometers) south of Bay Springs.
Hurricanes typically hit Mississippi in early to mid-spring. Carpenter called the timing of the storm a “very unusual situation” with continued thunder and hail and high temperatures.
“It’s a whole different game here,” Carpenter said. “What we normally see in March and April, we’re seeing in June.”
On March 24, a deadly cyclone It carved a path of destruction through parts of western and northern Mississippi, killing at least 26 people and damaging thousands of homes. Some rural towns face an uphill task in rebuilding the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday’s tornado also hit Rankin County, which borders the capital, Jackson. Emergency crews are deploying drones in some areas to conduct search and rescue operations and damage assessments as downed power lines are impassable.
On Monday afternoon, another potential tornado hit the southern Mississippi town of Moss Point. Photos showed homes with ruined roofs and downed power lines. Strong winds and heavy rain blanketed Jackson County. WLOX-TV Eight people were reported trapped inside a bank in downtown Mass Point. They were later rescued unharmed. A flood warning was issued in the district on Monday.
In a Monday news release, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said more than 49,000 homes were without power in central Mississippi. Tens of thousands of people in Hinds County, the state’s most populous region, were still without power Monday morning after strong winds. It hit the state early on Friday morning.
Reeves said the state is opening command centers and shelters for those displaced by severe weather.
After leaving his home Monday morning, Campbell returned to survey the damage. He arrived and found half the roof gone, the garage destroyed and the windows broken. He felt lucky compared to his neighbors.
“Most of the houses are gone. They are demolished. They’re over,” Campbell said.
Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on hidden issues. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/mikergoldberg.