COLUMBIA, Miss. — Power companies managed 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 four people.
About 6,000 people were without power after the storm Tuesday but most had service restored or were expected to have service Wednesday, Gov. Phil Bryant said at a news conference in Columbia, about 80 miles southeast of the state capital of Jackson.
Bryant, who toured the stricken area by helicopter and by vehicle before the news conference, said state emergency officials believe the destruction was caused by a tornado, although the National Weather Service in Jackson has not confirmed that yet.
State emergency workers were still evaluating the damage in Columbia, which is in Marion County, and in Jones County to the northeast. Four people were killed in those counties, including three who died in mobile homes. Another person was killed at a business.
Some 40 businesses and 30 homes were damaged in Columbia, Bryant said. About 10 to 15 buildings were damaged in the more rural Jones County.
Columbia Mayor Robert Bourne said the tornado straddled U.S. 98, so damage was on both sides of the four-lane highway. Bryant had said earlier that the tornado cut a swath of about 3 to 3.5 miles long through Columbia and about a quarter of a mile wide.
Police in Columbia were stationed at all major intersections after traffic lights were either swept away or destroyed amid Tuesday's powerful storms. At least 20 people were injured, according to Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials.
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 weather warning was issued and the sirens went off in town. 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 left completely intact.
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.