At Least Four Dead, 20 Injured After Tornado Strikes Mississippi

PHOTO: A tornado swept through the Amite, LA damaging property, Dec. 23, 2014.PlayTangipahoa Emergency Management
WATCH Tornado Rips Through Mississippi and the South

Tornadoes swept through the South Tuesday, killing at least four people and injuring at least 20 others in Mississippi while damaging homes and businesses, officials said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the four individuals who lost their lives today during the severe weather that pushed through the state," Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement.

Two deaths were confirmed in Jones County, Sheriff Alex Hodge said, noting the victims' mobile home was destroyed by the storm. Another two deaths and 20 injuries were reported in Marion, with "extensive damage to homes and businesses, multiple roads closed and numerous power outages," according to the state's Emergency Management Agency.

Five tornadoes were reported in Mississippi, while tornadoes also struck Georgia and Louisiana.

Damage is still being assessed, but the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi, said there are "reports of extensive damage, including structural," after the tornado struck near Columbia, and a mobile home park was damaged.

Columbia Fire Captain Terry Hamilton said crews were using jaws of life to rescue people trapped in the mobile home park.

"We have heavy damage into a mobile home park that has 40 plus mobile homes, completely totaled and damaged and having patients being cut out jaws of life now," he said.

He said there was concern that there might also be holiday shoppers trapped in a Walmart and other stores.

"Everything on what they call the 98 Bypass in Columbia, all the businesses that's on the east side is heavily damaged," Hamilton said. " We have personnel that's even working in some of the stores that are rescue personnel and we have first responders that do work in these stores."

Gov. Bryant issued a state of emergency this evening for Marion and Jones counties, along with other parts of the state affected by severe weather.

"I have declared a state of emergency to assist local officials with any available state resources that are needed in areas affected by severe weather, specifically in Jones and Marion counties," Bryant said in a statement. "The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service are continuing to monitor the situation in the region."

Local power companies reported 6,300 customers without power as of 2:45 p.m. in Marion County, according to the governor's office. In Jones County, 935 customers were without power as of 3:30 p.m.

Earlier, the service tweeted for residents to seek shelter as "debris was falling out of the sky."

There were also several injuries at a Walmart near there, authorities said.

In Amite, Louisiana, officials said a large tornado damaged several homes, but there were no early reports of injuries. Fire Chief Bruce Cutrer said his house was among those that got hit.

"I got some roof damage to it and the back door bashed in and it appears it may have been lifted and shifted just a little hit," he said. "What we're truly blessed with is nobody was hurt. Nobody got killed and it's...we got a lot to be thankful for."

PHOTO: Most of South Mississippi is under a tornado watch until 6 p.m., Dec. 23, 2014.WAPT
Most of South Mississippi is under a tornado watch until 6 p.m., Dec. 23, 2014.