COLUMBIA, Miss. — Power companies struggled to restore electricity to thousands of people in Mississippi on Wednesday, a day after a powerful storm swept through the southeastern U.S. and killed at least four people.
Police in Columbia, Mississippi were stationed at all major intersections because traffic lights were swept away or destroyed amid Tuesday's powerful storms. The severe weather also injured 50 people and damaged or destroyed an unknown number of homes and businesses.
The roof was ripped off the building of the Jack Morris Gas Co., a natural gas supplier.
Wanda Morris, a family member who works in the company office, said she was watching TV when a warning was issued and the sirens went off. She said she gathered employees and customers, about 15 people in all, into a vault in the building, and they rode out the storm there.
"When we heard the sirens the second time, I started yelling, 'Get into the vault! Get into the vault! And I ran outside and started yelling," she said. Only one employee failed to make it into the vault in time and hid under a metal table. He sustained minor injuries.
Although the business itself was heavily damaged, a sign outside bearing the Ten Commandments was completely intact.
Teams from the National Weather Service office in Jackson arrived in Marion and Jones counties early Wednesday to determine whether a tornado was responsible for the limited swath of damage that cut across southern Mississippi.
In Alabama, authorities said thunderstorms left trees and power lines down across the state and flooded several roads.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch in south Georgia as thunderstorms continued in many parts of the state. A tornado watch was issued for parts of northern Florida. A flood warning was issued for Lawrence County in Alabama and Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana.
On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared an emergency for two southeastern counties where the victims died. Emergency management officials said four people were killed, three in mobile homes and one in a business.
Marion County Emergency Management director Aaron Greer said the 50 people injured in county were treated at Marion General Hospital in Columbia, about 80 miles southeast of the capital of Jackson, and Forest General Hospital in Hattiesburg. He did not know the extent of the injuries.
"The whole town of Columbia is without power," Millie Swann, a spokeswoman for Marion General Hospital said. "The hospital is running on generator (power), but was able to treat people in the ER unless they needed a higher level of care."
Swann said the hospital's emergency room has since quieted.
"Any time there's an event like this things get hectic, but health care people are used to working under pressure," she said.
Photos tweeted by from several local media and the National Weather Service in Jackson showed damage to a Walgreens, car dealership, day care and the strip mall. Several local news outlets said none of the children at the day care were injured.
"It's chaos over here," Marion County coroner Norma Williamson said. "All the lines are down."
Mississippi Highway Patrol Lt. Johnny Poulos said authorities have shut down the three highways that lead into Columbia because of downed trees, power lines and other debris.