JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) – Tornadoes unleashed by thunderstorms along the US Gulf Coast ripped through southeastern Mississippi on Tuesday, killing four people, injuring many and causing extensive damage, authorities said. One of the heaviest-hit areas was a commercial district along a US Highway 98 bypass in the town of Columbia in Marion County, about 30 miles (48 km) west of Hattiesburg, state emergency management spokesman Greg Flynn told Reuters.
“We’ve got whole roofs lying in the road, people trapped in houses, cars flipped over,” Marion County Sheriff Berkley Hall said.
One woman was killed in a shopping strip in Columbia, a rural community of about 6,500 people, and another in a nearby trailer home, according to county coroner Norma Williamson. “It’s chaos over here,” she said of the aftermath of the storm, which struck at about 2.30pm (2030 GMT).
Images of the scene published on the web-site of Hattiesburg television station WDAM showed mangled buildings, snapped trees, debris-littered roads and overturned vehicles, including an ambulance.
Two more storm-related fatalities were confirmed in Jones County to the northeast, where a separate tornado touched down an hour later, and both victims there were believed to have died in their homes, county emergency management spokeswoman Tam-my Wells said.