JACKSON, Miss. – Severe weather slamming the southern U.S. two days before Christmas killed at least four people, flipped cars, knocked out power to thousands and damaged several homes and businesses.
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared an emergency for two southeastern counties where officials say four people died in the storms and several more were injured. His office said thousands were without power Tuesday night around Columbia, which is about 80 miles southeast of Jackson.
Jones County Emergency Management director Marda Tullos said a man and woman were killed inside a mobile home in the storm's path in Laurel. About 50 miles southwest, Marion County coroner Norma Williamson tells WDAM that two people were killed in Columbia. One person was in a trailer park, another at a strip mall.
She said the Marion County hospital emergency room in Columbia was dealing with many patients.
National Weather Service meteorologist Latrice Maxie said significant damage has been reported to homes and businesses in the city of about 6,500 people . A survey team will be sent Wednesday to determine whether a tornado was responsible, she said. Storm spotter said it was.
Marion County Emergency Management director Aaron Greer told the Hattiesburg American newspaper that some people were still trapped inside their homes. Television footage showed cars, including an ambulance, flipped over and a few businesses wrecked.
Calls from The Associated Press to Greer weren't immediately returned Tuesday night.
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.
Watches and warnings were out for a swath of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama with the storms moving toward Georgia, including Atlanta, and Florida late Tuesday into Christmas Eve.
According to local media reports, a tornado touched down in Amite, Louisiana, downing several power lines and trees and tearing the roof off at least one home. Golf ball-sized hail fell in Enterprise, Mississippi, along with some pea-sized hail in the Bude area.
Flooding also was forecast in several areas because of several inches of rain piling up.
Already in Tallahassee, Florida, the National Weather Service tweeted that travel was strongly discouraged and that several water rescues were in progress. At least 6 inches of rain had hit the area in a short time.