JACKSON, Miss. – At least two people were killed in traffic accidents and more than a dozen injured Thursday when a powerful storm front packing heavy rain and possible tornadoes pushed across Mississippi.
A motorist was killed after colliding with a Lamar County deputy head-on during the height of the storm, while a single-vehicle accident in Jones County claimed another life.
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A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman said the vehicles involved in both crashes may have hydroplaned during downpours, though investigations are continuing.
To the north, about 100 houses were damaged and destroyed and 11 people were injured in Lowndes County. Two have been hospitalized with injuries that don't appear to be life threatening, said Cindy Lawrence, the Columbus-Lowndes County emergency management director.
She said children at the K-12 school in Caledonia avoided injury when high winds tossed a bus on top of the gym and also destroyed the vocational building and several cars in the parking lot.
"School was in session, but they don't usually go in the gym (during a tornado warning)," Lawrence said. "They were kept in the hallway."
Lawrence said local churches have opened shelters for those whose homes were destroyed and that the National Weather Service would visit the rural northeast Mississippi community Friday to determine if the damage was done by a tornado or high winds.
Ricky Black, a welder from McCool, said there's little mystery about what damaged his outbuildings and trees.
"It was a tornado because the tops are twisted out of the trees," he said. "No question it's a tornado."
Cleanup across the state continued into the evening and reports of property damage and power outages were widespread. Black was told he might be without power for two to three days.
Twenty-five homes and two businesses were destroyed in Lowndes County and another 65 were damaged, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.
Seven homes were destroyed in Holmes County where three people were injured and another seven homes suffered major damage.
And one business and three farm buildings were destroyed in Attala County, where 10 cattle were killed and 70 injured when a farm building was hit by high winds or a tornado.
Several farm buildings also were blown down near Weir and a woman was injured.
The National Weather Service posted severe thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings across the state until the late afternoon when the storm passed into Alabama. Warning sirens were triggered in several communities, including areas of Hinds, Rankin, Madison and Simpson counties, as possible tornadoes were detected by weather watchers.
Staff Sgt. James P. Snyder said David H. Siler, 43, of New Hebron, was killed when the sports utility vehicle he was driving collided with Deputy Blake Thompson during the height of the storm.
Thompson was responding to a call about a bank robbery in Purvis when he and Siler crashed on Highway 599. Thompson wore his seat belt, but Siler was thrown from his vehicle.
Snyder said Siler was a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee in Purvis who was dismissed early because of the storm.
Thompson suffered numerous broken bones and will have surgery to correct extensive injuries to his lower legs. He was transferred Thursday night from Forrest County General Hospital to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
There were dozens of wrecks across southcentral Mississippi during the storm, Snyder said.
"It's just been crazy," he said.