HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The powerful twister that struck Mississippi over the weekend tore a path across at least three counties, injuring more than 60 people — but residents marveled Monday that no one died.
Officials said several circumstances converged to ensure no lives were lost in what could have been a deadly storm: Sirens and TV broadcasts gave people up to 30 minutes of warning; many students had left the University of Southern Mississippi because of Mardi Gras; and most businesses were either closed or quiet because it was a Sunday.
Forecasters were able to closely track where the storm was headed and had confirmed reports from both people on the ground and from radar, making it easier to give warning, said weather service meteorologist Chad Entremont.
About 50 roads were closed at one point because of felled trees, downed power lines, and debris. About 200 homes and mobile homes were damaged or destroyed, with another 100 apartments left uninhabitable. Several thousand remained without power, though the electricity was expected to be restored to most customers later Monday, Governor Phil Bryant said.
Bryant said the twister carved a path of destruction roughly 75 miles long, though National Weather Service officials have not yet determined the tornado’s exact path or how long it was on the ground. However, early indications show it had wind speeds reaching 145 miles per hour in parts of Hattiesburg, Entremont said.
This twister was part of a storm cell moving faster than usual, meaning it was likely to cover more ground. Many tornadoes travel just a few miles, Entremont said.
While more tornadoes were not in the forecast, heavy rain was expected into Tuesday. That could make cleanup efforts more difficult, said weather service meteorologist Brad Bryant in Jackson, Miss.
On the USM campus, trees snapped around the heavily damaged Alumni House, where part of the roof was ripped away.