Widespread damage from weather, 1 seriously hurt in Miss. storms

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres

CLINTON — A line of severe storms swept through Mississippi on Friday morning, spawning at least one suspected tornado that caused extensive damage and left at least one person with serious injuries, officials said.

Although the damage reports remained high later in the day, officials had confirmed just one injury. Authorities planned to continue search-and-rescue efforts in the wake of the twister, which had trampled several homes and businesses, uprooted trees and toppled power lines along U.S. Highway 80.

A dispatcher for the Clinton Police Department said a tornado touched down around 11 a.m. CDT, though the National Weather Service had not yet confirmed it was a tornado. The same line of storms left at least nine people dead elsewhere in the U.S.

Jim Pollard with American Medical Response said seven people were taken to hospitals, including an elderly woman who had what were considered life-threatening injuries. Another six were taken to hospitals with injuries not considered life-threatening, he said.

Lt. Jeffery Scott of the Hinds County Sheriff Department said the high winds caused extensive damage to a BankPlus in Clinton, blowing a portion of the building across the interstate, scattering cars that were parked in the building’s lot and overturning an 18-wheeler truck.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there is extensive damage in Hinds County, where Clinton is located, causing Interstate 20 to be shut down. Numerous power outages also have been reported across the state. Clinton is about 10 miles from Jackson.

As the dark skies lightened to an overcast gray, residents, volunteers and emergency crews scattered throughout the Easthaven subdivision in Clinton to begin removing trees and pieces of houses from the middle of streets.

People were looking for things to be thankful for, like the fact that nearby Eastside Elementary School had sustained little damage, while houses close to the school were completely destroyed.

Debra Zepponi, 50, looked at the roof damage to her home and was thankful for what she didn’t lose.

Zepponi said that her Yorkshire-Maltese mix dog named Bailey was not hurt, and that a magnolia tree that was her mother’s favorite is the only one in the yard left standing.

“I’m glad it didn’t get her tree,” said Zepponi, whose mother died a few years ago.

She said her 92-year-old neighbor recently moved to an assisted living facility. She looked across the street to his home and saw that it was in shambles.

Clinton Public Schools District Superintendent Phil Burchfield said the school is without power. Some parents had arrived to pick up their children, but classes were not dismissing early, he said. The school holds about 750 students.

Burchfield said the storm damaged an awning and some trees on the grounds, but did not cause any significant damage.

Phillip Gregory, 23, was at a bank not far from his home when the weather began to worsen on Friday morning.

Gregory, a restaurant cook who worked in the cleanup on the Mississippi Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said he got home about the time a tornado was forming in his neighborhood off U.S. Highway 80 in Clinton, just west of Jackson.

He said he dashed into the house, gathered up his 72-year-old grandmother, Dean Gregory, and got them both into a bathtub. They held a mattress over them for protection as the twister hit.

“You could just feel the house fall down. The whole back side of the house is gone,” he said afterward.

“All you could see was this black cloud,” he said, referring to the tornado as it passed.

Neither he nor his grandmother was hurt, but the roof was torn off their house, and trees and fences were flattened.

At Fads and Frames, one of several businesses along a stretch of highway not far from the Gregory home, Claude Clark saw the twister approach.

Clark, 66, a retired Hinds County constable who now manages the green house for the business, said he was standing outside in the lawn section when he saw the tornado near.

“Stuff started coming up in the air and I said, ‘Let’s get inside.’ We got about halfway in and then we had to hit the floor. Pieces of the roof and glass were flying through the store,” he said.

About a dozen people were in the store, though no one there was hurt.

Heavy rain and hail were reported elsewhere in the state as the spring storm system pushed east, leaving a few mobile homes and other structures damaged.

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Associated Press writer Molly Davis contributed to this report.