By BRIAN HAWKINS
National Weather Service meteorologists have confirmed that a Monday night storm system that ravaged areas of south and east Starkville and the Mississippi State campus did indeed spawn a tornado.
City officials said Tuesday that they believed a small tornado touched down in south Starkville and moved along a northeasterly path. Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill said she, Mayor Parker Wiseman and Police Chief David Lindley were out surveying the damage early Tuesday morning.
Some areas of south Starkville may be without electrical service until sometime today as city crews and emergency responders began cleaning up Tuesday from the tornado and severe thunderstorms that struck the city late Monday night.
Some areas along South Louisville Street — particularly around The Pines Mobile Home Park — have required extensive repair to electrical lines before power could be restored, said Spruill on Tuesday. The repairs would probably take until sometime today to complete, she said.
National Weather Service meteorologists’ later confirmed early Tuesday afternoon that a Class EF-2 twister had touched down in the city.
The storm’s attack
From what officials have been able to determine, the twister touched down shortly before 11 p.m. at the Sportsplex on Lynn Lane and began moving northeast from there, ripping siding off the Church of the Nazarene and causing roof damage to some apartments on Park Circle before slamming into the Pines Mobile Home Park off South Louisville Street, where it caused the most severe damage, Spruill said.
Several mobile homes were destroyed, while others were knocked off their foundations or suffered minor to moderate damage. Furniture, clothing and personal possessions were strewn about the mobile home park amid broken trees and other debris.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm early Tuesday morning, Starkville police officers and firefighters conducted at least three searches of the mobile home park to ensure that all residents could be located and were not trapped in damaged homes. Both Starkville Electric Department and Atmos Energy crews were working at the mobile home park early Tuesday morning and throughout the day Tuesday to repair downed electrical lines and ruptured natural gas lines.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency representatives had set up a mobile incident response center at the mobile home park by midday Tuesday.
After striking The Pines, the tornado continued moving northeast, damaging portions of the Starkville High School campus and Pleasant Acres subdivision before moving across Highway 12 and hitting areas around Colonel Muldrow Street in the Cotton District before the reported twister dissipated.
Multiple traffic signals along Highway 12 East were damaged by the storm, and were either flashing yellow or red at certain intersections as city crews worked to repair them Tuesday. Several businesses were also damaged.
SHS campus sees moderate damage
Tuesday morning, Starkville School District Supt. Judy Couey confirmed that the fences at the SHS baseball field and tennis courts had been damaged, and one wall of the greenhouse at the Millsaps Vocational-Technical building had been blown out. The roof of the Millsaps building itself had some holes believed to have been caused by flying debris carried by the storm from The Pines, Couey said.
Two classrooms had roof damage and interior water damage, and school staff members had been moving computer equipment out of those rooms to be examined for water damage. Carpet in both classrooms was soaked, Couey said.
Classes scheduled to meet in those rooms were relocated to other rooms on the SHS campus, she added.
“We’ve contacted our insurance adjuster and have been taking pictures,” said Couey. “Our concern right now is preventing further damage.”
Couey said officials at other schools in the district — including Sudduth Elementary — were reporting the presence of water in some portions of their buildings, but it was being cleaned up and was not sufficient to disrupt classes.
“All other classes are going on as scheduled,” she said.
Other areas of the city, county impacted
The storm system — which brought multiple heavy thunderstorms into the greater Starkville area Monday night and early Tuesday morning — did cause other damage in the city and on the Mississippi State campus.
Spruill said numerous trees were down throughout the city, though damage was more prevalent in areas of south Starkville where the tornado struck.
In the Pleasant Acres subdivision just east of the SHS campus, a large pine tree fell through the roof of a home on Howard Road, while another large tree on Pine Circle was destroyed. Crews from various tree services and roofing contractor were working to help residents in that subdivision on Tuesday.
Multiple subdivisions along South Montgomery Street — including Timber Cove and Sherwood Forest — saw minor damage, with some trees damaged and much small vegetation debris scattered over roadways.
In addition to areas along South Louisville Street, some isolated power outages did occur around the community, though many were restored by daybreak Tuesday, Spruill said.
Debris and damage along the Highway 12 corridor included a roof torn off one of the “roosts” at Barnhill’s Restaurant, a damaged awning at the B-Quik at the intersection with 12 and Montgomery Street, similar damage at the Abner’s Restaurant just to the north of B-Quik as well as signage for at least three businesses.
Some damage was reported in the Clayton Village area off Highway 182 East, and reports of downed or damaged trees and some downed power lines came in from around the county, said Emergency Management Director Jim Britt late Tuesday afternoon.
“The worst of it hit the city. As bad as the damage is — especially at The Pines — we dodged a pretty big bullet,” said Britt.
Light damage at MSU
On the Mississippi State campus, the large banners hanging on the exterior of Davis Wade Stadium were damaged by the storm, and multiple trees were reported damaged, including a large limb that was lost from a sycamore tree in the Junction.
Some buildings along the Drill Field reportedly saw minor damage, with electrical service being disrupted in one building — Carpenter Hall — after a hackberry tree fell on an electrical transformer by the building. MSU Physical Plant crews had power restored to the building by early Tuesday afternoon.
“We had standard cleanup to the infrastructure and roadways, but all were cleared for traffic by 8 a.m.,” said George Davis, work management supervisor for MSU Physical Plant Administration.
Other storm reports
Contrary to earlier reports, seven people did suffer minor injuries and require treatment at OCH Regional Medical Center late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, said Coroner Michael Hunt, who also works in emergency services at the hospital. However, all were treated and released, he said.
No one died in the storm.
Though National Weather Service records from last night’s storm were still being confirmed Tuesday morning, unofficial measurements at MSU’s Climatology Lab in Hilbun Hall recorded a combined 2.71 inches of rainfall over a 32-hour period that began at 12 a.m. Monday and ended at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Wind gusts were reported to have reached as high as 70 mph as the storm system passed through the area. Oktibbeha County was one of seven counties declared a disaster area by Gov. Haley Barbour on Tuesday to expedite use of state resources to help in the storm recovery. Yazoo, Attala, Leake, Monroe, Smith and Warren counties also saw damage.
Helping storm victims
Early Tuesday morning, police and fire officials were working with volunteers from Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services (OSERVS) to help find housing for displaced residents of The Pines. At least 19 people had been housed in rooms at the Regal Inn by OSERVS volunteers, while others left to stay with friends and family.
Those residents whose mobile homes sustained light or no damage were being allowed to stay in their homes early Tuesday morning. OSERVS director Becky Wilkes said the agency would be accepting monetary donations to provide continued help to victims of Monday night’s storms and replenish funds the agency spent Monday and Tuesday.
Residents who have lost cars may be needing extended motel stays and assistance in replacing clothing, food and other needed items, Wilkes said.
Since OSERVS has applied for status as non-profit, tax-exempt organization, all donations are tax-deductible, she said. Donations may be mailed to OSERVS, P.O. Box 443, Starkville, MS 39760, or dropped off at the Starkville Daily News offices at 304 E. Lampkin St. during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) weekdays. A special mailbox for monetary donations has been placed just inside the front door of the SDN offices. Any checks should be made payable to OSERVS and designated for the storm victims.
State American Red Cross officials arrived in Starkville Tuesday morning and were working with OSERVS and in conjunction with city officials to aid in the storm relief efforts.
The Red Cross was able to house 30 displaced storm victims at the Microtel Inn and Suites Tuesday night.