By The Associated Press
JACKSON — The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency says the state’s death toll from violent storms Tuesday and Wednesday is now 11.
Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the agency confirmed the number Wednesday night and said there have been more than 40 injuries. Damage was reported in 48 counties.
Meanwhile, authorities said a possible tornado heavily damaged much of the town of Smithville in Monroe County.
“All of downtown and the west side of town are gone,” Thomas Wells, a photographer for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal told The Associated Press. He said the small town’s City Hall , a local school and several churches were leveled. Students at the school had been dismissed when the storm hit.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said there were numerous injuries in the town but had no details.
An updated county-by-county list of confirmed Mississippi fatalities from the storms included one in Choctaw, two in Jasper, three in Kemper, One in Lafayette, one in Pike, one in Smith, one in Webster and one in Yazoo. The Pike victim was a 3-year-old girl killed Tuesday when a tree fell on her family’s home.
Kim Korthuis, a supervisor with the National Park Service at Jeff Busby Park in Choctaw County, Miss., said the 40-year-old man from Covington, La., and his daughter were camping less than 50 feet from the camp’s public restrooms, a wood and brick structure that was not damaged. The tent was sitting just off the main road through the park when the storm came through.
A 125-foot tall sweetgum tree, one of several towering over the campsite, fell onto the tent and killed the man, Korthuis said. He said the girl survived but was “obviously upset.”
Covington, La., police Capt. Jack West identified the victim as Wade Sharp, a lieutenant with the Covington Police Department.
“When the storm came, he threw himself on his daughter” to protect her, West said.
After the tree fell, the girl used her father’s cell phone to call the Covington Police Department. They contacted Mississippi authorities, West said.
Sharp had been with the department for 19 years, first working patrol, then a detail with a drug-detecting dog. After serving as a shift commander, he worked a special street crimes unit. At the time of his death, he was an investigator.
“He was a hell of an investigator,” West said.
The girl’s mother and grandmother picked her up about noon Wednesday. Other campers were at the park, but no other injuries were reported.
In Webster County, Coroner Steve Wells said a man was killed about 2:30 a.m. when a tree fell on his mobile home in the Ticky Bend community between Eupora and Mathiston off U.S. Highway 82. The victim was not immediately identified.
In Yazoo County, Coroner Ricky Shivers said a member of a county road crew, 48-year-old Charles H. “Harold’ Coker of Yazoo City, was killed Wednesday when he was struck by a tree the crew was removing from old Highway 49.
In Lafayette County, Coroner Rocky Kennedy said Charles Jones, 57, of Oxford was killed about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday when his 18-wheeler truck hit a tree and ran off Mississippi Highway 30 east of Oxford.
Along the Natchez Trace Parkway in north Mississippi, crews removed trees that fell along the scenic route that runs to Nashville.
Paul Maier, a volunteer at Jeff Busby Park who helps others on camping trips, said he and his wife slept through the storm in a camper about 100 feet Sharp’s campsite. He said another person brought the girl to stay with him.
He said he went back to the tent to check on the girl’s father, he found the man dead. Maier said the girl said she was 9 years old and that she had thought her father had been struck by lightning. Maier said the way the girl described the situation, he believes her father was trying to get her up and out of the tent to safety.
“She wasn’t hurt, just scared and soaking wet,” Maier said.
In the east central Mississippi city of Philadelphia, deputy fire chief Steve Thomas said a tornado passed through about 2 p.m. Wednesday, damaging the roof of the fire station, a nearby Army National Guard armory, a city park and other structures before working its way across Neshoba County.
Gov. Haley Barbour issued a state of emergency for 39 Mississippi counties and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The declaration cover the counties of Adams, Alcorn, Attala, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Coahoma, Covington, Grenada, Hinds, Holmes, Issaquena, Kemper, Lafayette, Lauderdale, Leake, Leflore, Marshall, Monroe, Montgomery, Neshoba, Newton, Panola, Pike, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Rankin, Scott, Smith, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo, Tunica, Union, Yalobusha, Webster and Yazoo where damage had been reported.
“A large section of our state has been impacted, and our emergency responders are doing an excellent job in helping communities,” Barbour said.
Lafayette County emergency management director David Shaw said two people were slightly hurt when the tractor-trailer rig they were in was blown over by high winds in the parking lot of the Winchester plant.
“We apparently had a tornado come through here. We had extensive damage from the west side of the county to the east … mostly trees down, homes damaged and downed power lines. There were no other injuries,” Shaw said.
In Holmes County, the sheriff’s department lost its communications tower, and a building with old case files and evidence was destroyed, according to local officials. The sheriff’s office was operating with a backup communications system. There were no injuries.
In Webster County, Wells said the sheriff’s department and other emergency officers worked at Eupora City Hall because of power outages. He said there had been damage to several structures, including the East Webster school. He said no students were present when the storm came through.
In Chickasaw County, emergency management director Linda Griffin said crews were out to assist with damage and determine injury.
“We had an older couple off of Enon Road whose trailer was completely destroyed,” Griffin said. “We had to walk them out. We had a couple of injuries but no deaths reported. So far, all of our folks are accounted for.”
Entergy Mississippi reported 24,551 customers without power in Mississippi Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s very scattered outages, but we do have pockets that are particularly hard hit,” Entergy Mississippi spokeswoman Mara Hartmann said. “It’s tough. It’s straining our resources.
“Not only has it hit us hard, but it’s hit Arkansas and Louisiana. The people we normally get help from have been affected themselves. That doesn’t mean we can’t get help; it will just take longer.”
Ron Stewart with the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi said 14,000 meters remained without service and power could be restored by late Wednesday.
Holbrook Mohr reported from Choctaw County and Neshoba County, Miss. , and Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., and Alan Sayre in New Orleans contributed to this report