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Coverage Of Tornado Activity In Mississippi And Alabama

Aired February 10, 2013 - 20:00   ET


RANDY WRIGHT, HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: Yes, it looks like it went straight through the baseball field and then over the student parking lot. All the light poles and other things were ripped up and then it hit the football facilities.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: So what are you seeing -- where are you right now?

WRIGHT: I'm at a friend's apartment.

KEILAR: You're at a friend's apartment. What kind of damage have you seen in the area aside from the school?

WRIGHT: There's tons of trees down, power lines are all over the place. I haven't seen a lot of the buildings that have been damaged, but I heard that our college, the University of Southern Mississippi, a lot of that college has been damaged in ways. Some dorms have been destroyed. The light -- I mean, the windows have been smashed out, it seems.

KEILAR: And that must be a concern, obviously, because there would be a number of students who would be there.

WRIGHT: Ma'am?

KEILAR: Is that -- is that right, you would expect that there'd be a number of students? Do you know -- do you know if the -- if we're talking about dorms, that would be a major concern.

WRIGHT: Yes, but we have Mardi Gras break right now.



WRIGHT: Most students are home. So it's really fortunate.

KEILAR: That is -- I mean, that is very -- that is very fortunate, Randy. So tell me, you actually -- you are a worship minister, is that right, at a church?

WRIGHT: Yes, ma'am.

KEILAR: Do you know what -- if your church is going to be doing anything -- what's -- is it too early to say, I imagine, that you'll be trying to help out a lot of people obviously who don't have power, don't have supplies?

WRIGHT: During Katrina, our church went out and aided a lot of people, and so I imagine that whatever needs need to be met, our church is going to try to achieve those to reach those people.

KEILAR: OK, Randy. Thank you so much.

Randy Wright there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We appreciate you talking with us, and we've been seeing some of the photos that you have been putting out on Twitter.

So as Randy was saying that Oak Grove High School there in Hattiesburg, it appears that part of the high school was hit and that was the athletic fields. The baseball area that you're looking at right now where a car has actually been sent there out on to the baseball diamond. And also, the football field. A pretty large stadium that they have there. And the field house there, the weight room, the workout room for the players completely demolished.

However, it does appear that a large portion of the high school, the academic buildings have survived with maybe just some minimal damage, some roof damage, as we heard Randy there.

That's not the case that he's hearing or trying to get a handle on this. That nearby, the University of Southern Miss has suffered significant damage. We're trying to get a sense of the buildings there, of whether they were damaged. We heard Randy say, and we'll be double checking on this, that because students do have a break right now that may just really be a godsend because a lot of them may have gone home. And we certainly do hope that's the case as we try to get an assessment of the damage.

But again, we're following severe weather, not just in Mississippi, but in the south. This is a tornado that you're watching right now that touched down there in Hattiesburg and also west of Hattiesburg, right, Tom? Is that correct? West of Hattiesburg.


KEILAR: But you're also keeping your eye on Alabama.

SATER: Yes, and I think we may have another possible tornado. If you live in the town of Millry, Alabama, or just east-northeast of Millry, Alabama, you've got to seek shelter now. Let me start with a broad picture and we'll work our way into that community.

Here's the line that we have been watching. We're getting reports now south of Montgomery, Alabama, that some of the thunderstorms are producing some wind damage. They're not due to tornadoes, but we are getting some wind damage. If we break this down for you -- and I want to go back to what we have as far as some of the warnings are concerned. You're going to see that we've got about five of them now, tornado warnings, in effect.

The good news is Hattiesburg is going to be in the clear. They're into some brief rainfall. But if you work our way and my concern, of course, was this thunderstorm cell that was making its way across the Mississippi and Alabama border into southwestern areas.

Now this is Thomasville. If you live in this area to the southwest of this, this thunderstorm here has been really producing some problems.

I want to show you what we call as reflectivity here. Doppler radar, besides just exactly showing you, of course, what we have as far as -- it's actually not coming on here. Let me see if we can get this here. As far as showing you what the winds can do with this, many times you'll see this on the local level.

I don't know if we can get this pulled up here for you. There we go. The old saying is -- well, I just lost that. Reflectivity basically is showing around the Millry area, Millry, that we do have circulation.

Reflectivity on Doppler radar, Brianna, is when green and red, you may have seen in a local level, when green meets red, get under the bed. That's the best way to explain it on the simplest terms. So again this is in the southwest areas of Alabama. If I want to run through a few of the counties that are still under warnings for you.

Of course, out of Jackson, Mississippi, the National Weather Service there. Southern Jones County, and that's only for about another 10 minutes. Also in Mississippi is Wayne County. That's until a good 7:30 Central Standard Time. And then of course we get into Alabama where we have Butler County, Monroe County, Wilcox County and Clark County.

Here's the image that I wanted to show you again. It's the winds. It's not just showing you the rate, the amount of rainfall, but when you have circulations, when you have an area of wind coming toward the Doppler radar in a way, this is our circulation. Now just moments ago this system was actually just to the east of Millry and has actually made its way to the east-northeast.

So it's following the pattern of the -- other thunderstorm cells. And you can see this is just one of several areas of concern. The better news is that on a greater picture here, we're starting to see some of these lose their punch. And that's what we want to see as far as some of the thunderstorms kind of, you know, get themselves rained out. They lose their intensity. It doesn't mean the threat is over because we're finding these thunderstorms move very quickly toward the east at about 50 miles per hour.

So with these thunderstorms, again, continuing to move, the threat is going to be in Georgia in the next couple of hours.

Here's the radar picture. Numerous lightning strikes. One to two inches of rain per hour. Atlanta is going to be into rainfall. I don't think you're going to see the threat for real severe weather, although the rain will be heavy. Montgomery, Alabama, just south of you is a big concern as well.

As we get in a little bit closer, you can see the tornado watches that remain in effect. Earlier I mentioned I wouldn't be surprised if the National Weather Service extended the next tornado watch box towards the east and the northeast. That would include the Montgomery, Alabama, metropolitan area. This is close enough. The good news is, Brianna, that we're seeing the back edge start to lose its punch. It's just a couple thunderstorm cells that are moving just toward Montgomery but just south of that area. So we're not through with this just yet.

KEILAR: OK, Tom. Thank you very much.

And we've got some new video actually of the tornado hitting Hattiesburg. And we'll be coming back to Tom as well as we get some of those maps sorted out. But this is new video. I want to let you hear the storm as it's obviously quickly approaching here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Hattiesburg, Mississippi. My name is Ronald Grant. And check this out. It's happening rights outside my hotel. Look at that. Look at all that damage, dude. Oh, snap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy -- yes. Oh, my god. I've never seen a tornado before in my life.


KEILAR: You are watching some new video in to us from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as well as new pictures here of some of the downed power lines it appears in the area.

And I do want to tell you since we have been talking about the University of Southern Miss because it suffered some significant damage, as we understand it, looking on the Web site, officials there at the university have said that there's a state of emergency on campus, but the good news is that there's no injuries reported. We've heard the kids are actually on break. So we're going to check on that. But university police have said there's a state of emergency. And they're telling students that if they're not on campus to not return until further notice.

At this point, you see the damage is confirmed to, it appears, a handful, maybe four buildings. Jazz Station, their Performing Arts Center, the alumni house, among others. So we will be certainly trying to get a sense of what the damage is there.

But we're following severe weather throughout the south. Obviously, you see it here in Mississippi. This is where these dramatic pictures are coming in. We've got I think at least at this point two different YouTube videos from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, showing this tornado on the ground there.

We spoke with a storm chaser who said that he actually picked up the storm in Marion County, which is next door to forest county, which is where Hattiesburg is, and that there were reports of injuries and structures damage there, as you can imagine looking at that tornado tracking along the ground. It tracked for several miles along the ground, we were told by the storm chaser. And it came into Forest County in Hattiesburg, specifically western Hattiesburg. We have been told by emergency management officials there are a number of subdivisions that may have suffered damage. We spoke with someone actually a couple of blocks from the University of Southern Miss, who said that just a couple of blocks from her there was tremendous damage but so far she hasn't seen any of her -- she's staying with a relative. Any of her relatives' neighbors having injuries.

The expectation, though, from officials we're told is that there are injuries, is that there are people that are trapped. So at this point, you have EMS, fire, police department, and they are moving through the area trying to get a sense of the damage. The struggle here as we go to Tom Sater, our CNN meteorologist, is that night has fallen. It's been now a couple of hours, I think, right?

SATER: Right.

KEILAR: since the storm has passed. And so they're dealing with downed power lines.


KEILAR: Not having power. And it's -- this is a tremendous effort, as we understand. There are emergency responders coming from all these different counties around Hattiesburg to try to help out.

SATER: The command centers are going to be set up, triage units, most likely, we will set up. As they go door to door.

What we're watching -- and again, forgive me, please. I'm with our sister network CNN International. I was covering the weather in China. So we ran over here at the last minute. And this is all coming together just in the last hour.

The number of warnings that we have are starting to get whittled down somewhat. And that's very good news. As far as damage is concerned, right now this is really the only area that we're getting reports from. And that's in the Hattiesburg area. We've had some reports of damage south of Montgomery, Alabama. The line, you could see -- the amount of lightning strikes with this. But flooding is a big concern. Tornado watches have not been extended.

Now that's a plus. Because as these storm systems -- as these individual cells race eastward at a good 50 miles per hour, you would think the national weather service while they're looking at circulation in these cells may extend that. And that's originally what I expected to happen. That has no occurred just yet which is a positive sign. It doesn't mean we're in the clear just yet.

A couple of storm systems that we are watching, Hattiesburg is mentioned. I think you're in the clear of any severe weather. Doesn't mean you're not going to have the rainfall and obviously the pining of water. That's going to cause a problem for first responders as well, mainly because of the downed power lines. And it's going to be a slow process and a long night. Notice from around Monroeville northward, we've got a couple of cells that of big concern.

One, two, three, four, five, we have six tornado warnings still in effect. Only one county in Mississippi. Most of them are in Alabama, but Thomasville. Thomasville, Alabama, we've got a thunderstorm cell that's probably still a good 35, 40 miles to your southwest. It's got its eyes on your area. Let's hope it rains itself out before it moves into your region. But that's the largest cell that we're watching right now. And a little concerning -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very, very concerning as we watch this threat sort of move through the south. But of course, we're looking at the aftermath of the storm in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, there in southern Mississippi.

We have some new YouTube video that has just come in. These are extraordinary pictures showing this tornado tracking along the ground as we understand that it did for several miles in this area. Let's listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a tornado. Holy -- holy -- yes. Oh, my god. I've never seen a tornado before in my life.


KEILAR: Let's go now to Jody Bass, he's a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Jody, I understand that your -- your home was hit. Is that right? By the tornado. What kind of damage have you suffered and were you away from your house at the time?

JODY BASS, LOST HOME IN HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI, TORNADO: No, I was -- I was home. We took refuge, me and the -- and the dogs, in a safe place. And the house got hit pretty good. The porches are peeled off. All the trees are gone. Just kind of uprooted. And they're kind of laying on the house and the cars and that kind of stuff.

KEILAR: The -- the trees are laying on the house? Is that right?

BASS: Yes, yes. Some of the house is -- I'm in a neighborhood just east of the University of Southern Mississippi. And we got -- we got hit pretty good. Some of the houses -- I haven't seen anything beyond the block from me because we can't get out of here.

KEILAR: So where exactly --

BASS: A lot of the houses down the street are completely roofless.

KEILAR: OK. And I am -- I mean, if you were able to take refuge with your dogs, did you -- you obviously got a little bit of notice to take refuge. And where did you take refuge?

BASS: Yes, yes. Just got in the -- got in the house in a smaller room, a closet.

KEILAR: And --

BASS: And just waited it out. It was pretty quick.

KEILAR: And what was it like? Describe it.

BASS: It was just like you hear tornadoes this bad, it was very loud, very quick. You know, the buildings are shaking. And you can tell that the trees are flying by. And it was, yes, pretty quick. And then --

KEILAR: Are your neighbors -- are your neighbors OK?

BASS: Well, as far as I know. We all kind of climbed out, and everyone was checking on everyone. And it looks like, as far as I know, at least, no one in the immediate neighborhood was hurt. But again, I don't have any knowledge of what's happened beyond a block from here.

KEILAR: Sure. So what are you a professor of at Southern Miss?

BASS: I'm a professor of geography.

KEILAR: All right. Well, that's certainly -- this may -- this may at least sort of touch upon your expertise, I would say.

BASS: Yes.

KEILAR: But can you give me a sense -- someone told me that the students are away on a Mardi Gras break? Is that right?

BASS: Yes, we -- our students get a break for Monday and Tuesday of Mardi Gras holiday. So university is probably pretty empty right now. So that's probably a good thing.

KEILAR: Well, that is a godsend, I would have to say. Certainly because I understand -- I'm looking at the university Web site and it says that damage has been confirmed to Jazz Station, Mannoni Performing Arts Center, Ogletree Alumni House and Elam Arms, which is vacant. What is -- what is the Jazz Station?

BASS: It's a -- it's a former fire station that belong to the Music Department. And they performed -- they it for small performances.

KEILAR: And the Performing Arts Center imagine is a much bigger building?

BASS: Right. It's a much larger kind of version of the same thing next door.

KEILAR: The alumni house and Elam Arms, those are -- are those adjacent to those other buildings?

BASS: Yes, Elam Arms is right across the street from those first two buildings. And that's a -- it's a dorm that's actually empty right now. So no concern there.

KEILAR: Jody, I have to say, you sound remarkably calm for someone who just went through a tornado. How are you feeling?

BASS: Well, you know, it's interesting. This is exactly like walking out of the house after Katrina. It's the exact same scene. The trees are laying on everything. And you know, a lot of projects to do. The garden survived, so I feel all right about that.

KEILAR: A lot of projects to do and the garden survived. I mean, I'm just -- I'm amazed at your -- your attitude. But can you -- can you --


BASS: Ask me in a few days.

KEILAR: I know. Maybe you're still in -- maybe you're still in shock from all of it. When you say that the porches were peeled off of the house, what is -- is there internal damage to your house?

BASS: Yes, there's a few trees that hit the roof and damaged, you know, the walls. You know, the -- the house is leaking right now from trees falling on the roof.

KEILAR: Yes? And --

BASS: The carport, I think --

KEILAR: Obviously --


BASS: The carport is gone, laying on its -- it's laying on the car, I think. It's hard to tell.

KEILAR: Are both of your cars -- both of your cars are gone, as I understand it?

BASS: Yes, I think so.

KEILAR: Oh, my goodness. Sir, you are amazingly calm.

BASS: I'll get a new car.

KEILAR: I guess that is the truth. You know, the important thing is that you are fine and also that your dogs are fine as well, since you took refuge with them. Obviously the most -- very important things in your life are pet and family members.

Professor Jody Bass, thanks for talking to us. He's a professor of geography at the University of Southern Miss.

Let's go now to our meteorologist in the CNN Weather Center, Tom Sater. What else are we seeing here as we monitor the severe weather across the south?

SATER: We've got another tornado. It has been confirmed by emergency personnel and Mississippi. This is the town of Winchester. This is the reflectivity on Doppler radar showing the circulation of the winds. In between the communities of Waynesboro and Winchester in fact really around the Winchester area. We do have confirmation now by of course law enforcement and emergency personnel.

The other system that we have if you were with us just a while ago, we mentioned the storm that was near Millry, to give you an idea of the speed of this system, it is all the way now in between Coffeeville and Frankville, and it's moving and racing to the east. But if you live in the Winchester area or to the east, to the northeast, you must seek shelter right now.

Grab the kids, the pets, whatever you have to do. If you're in a mobile home, if you've got time, if you're well to the east, definitely even try to seek more sturdy shelter.

But again, Winchester, Mississippi, this is the state line. So of course, this is the cell that I was concerned about is that it makes its way over. The other we're still concerned about this one. It doesn't seem to have the power that it did earlier near Millry. But we're going to continue to watch this, Brianna, I mean, as this system just continue to develop.

The warnings -- the number of warnings that we have are actually starting to kind of break away a little bit and that's good news. Our number is it is whittling down. One, two, three, we have four now that are still in effect. Of course, we're going to continue to keep you posted on this one. But again, Thomasville, Alabama. The thunderstorm I think if you look right now is the strongest of all of these that we've seen with the exception of the one in Winchester. And it looks like it may be clipping the community in the next 15 to 20 minutes.

So as we monitor the National Weather Service, they're on top of this. We're going to pass the information along to you. As soon as we get it counties again, they are still under tornado warnings in Mississippi. That would be Wayne County. That is for about another 10 minutes. In Alabama, it is Butler County, it is Monroe County, it is Clark County. And central Monroe as well.

So, again, the number we had, as many as eight at one tornado warnings. Now we're just down to four. And the other warnings we're starting to see get issued are severe thunderstorm warnings on the edge of your screen. As you see there. So that's a good sign too. Maybe losing a little bit of its energy right now as we've lost the daylight.

It's going to be a long evening, though, even for the threat and the fear that if one does pop up, of course we're in darkness now. That's why we're here and we're going to continue to keep you updated -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Of course, darkness which is hindering any sort of assessment of the damage and trying to figure if people are trapped. But just to kind of keep this straight, Tom, so we've obviously got this tornado, which we're looking at right now, a video of this in Hattiesburg. There was a tornado spotted in Winchester, Mississippi, that you were talking about earlier.

SATER: Correct.

KEILAR: Urgent tornado threat in Millry, Alabama, and the threat in Thomasville, Alabama, we don't know if that materialized into tornadoes, right?

SATER: Yes. All we know it's been confirmed by officials there, emergency personnel. We have not had any reports of damage, with the exception of south of Montgomery.

KEILAR: So they have -- they have confirmed that there is --

SATER: Yes. Yes, they have.

KEILAR: OK. OK. So obviously this is a situation spanning -- the weather system spanning a number of states, but we're looking at tornadoes on the ground in Alabama and Mississippi. The dramatic pictures that we're seeing coming to us from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Downed power lines. You can see it in some of these new photos that are coming in as night is falling here. This is making it tremendously difficult for emergency crews.

We've spoken to some people who are in subdivisions that are very close to the University of Southern Miss, which suffered significant damage, although the lucky thing here is that students actually have a break tomorrow and on Tuesday, so a lot of them took this long four- day weekend and they got out of town.

Also, a high school, Oak Grove High School, was hit. At least part of it was hit. It's a Sunday, so most of the kids weren't there. We understand there was some -- the girls' basketball team was having a practice. But luckily this coming at a time that in a way you might say was opportune considering the situation there at the college and at the high school.

We're going to continue monitoring this. This is developing. We have new pictures coming in. We have new video coming in of this tornado coming through Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We'll bring that to you when we come back from break.





KEILAR: There is severe weather in the south right now. Dangerous weather heading for southwestern Alabama as we speak. That is a tornado that hit the ground in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We have obviously confirmed that. You were watching it. This is something that happened a little over two hours ago. Of course, the aftermath is just beginning there on the ground.

From what we've seen, the damage is extensive there in Hattiesburg, especially on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. The good news here is that the campus is actually deserted this weekend for Mardi Gras holiday. Students have Monday and Tuesday off, and so they took -- many of them -- long weekends. That's not the case for the subdivision of houses right next door. We spoke with someone who is in a home, as the tornado rolled over the top of the house. Really doing a lot of damage to the house this morning.

His car -- both of his cars, he walked out of his house and said his neighbors appear to be fine. Of course, there's concern that other people may be trapped and injured. There's heavy damage as well at Oak Grove High School. It's actually where Brett Favre is the offensive coordinator for the football team. He's from a city nearby to Hattiesburg just about 20 miles away.

At least three people are reported hurt. So far we are working our sources to learn if there are more people injured.

And this is a developing weather so let's bring in our meteorologist Rom Sater here with the details of some of the other areas that we're keeping our eye on.

SATER: Well, if you were with us just five minutes ago, we talked about still across the state line into Mississippi, still dealing with one in Mississippi near Winchester. If you're with us, this of course reflectivity showing the winds. We now, as mentioned, just moments near Winchester, have confirmation by emergency personnel and management that we have damage near the down of Clara. If you noticed Clara.

Also damage -- first of all, let me mention in Clara, there is a report of a home damage near Highway 63. We have trees of course that are down. But also, about six miles just to the southeast of Waynesboro here. Of course this is the same cell that talked about that its way to the Winchester area.

It's moving at 40 miles per hour. So we have two confirmed reports of damage. The Clara area southwest of Waynesboro. I suspect was going to have reports of damage to have some reports of damage as we continue to track these systems and that people are able to get out when all is clear and start to find out what exactly is the -- is the problem and what of course these tornadoes have been forming or what they've been producing.

The threat is not over. We still have four tornado warnings that are in effect and we'll keep you posted on that. Mainly now the concern is going to go across the border into Alabama. Thomasville, we've been mentioning you for some time. Pretty good thunderstorm cell that continues to march your way at about 45 miles per hour.

KEILAR: And Tom, it's pretty amazing because a lot of the pictures we have been seeing, the video, and the photos are coming to us from social media. That includes Twitter, Facebook, iReports. And our Josh Levs is standing by. He has been combing through social media looking for some pictures to give us a sense of the storm.

And Josh, I know we have some new photos we haven't seen before.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to show you some now. I want all of you to know the pictures are starting to trickle in on social media. We at CNN don't just grab them and show them to you because in the wake of every disaster, there are some fake ones out there. What we do is confirm that they're real and then we show them to you. We've gotten an iReport here that comes from inside Hattiesburg. It's pretty striking. This is from a man who was looking out from where he lives inside his development across a tennis court. I was just speaking with him. His name is Eddie Fenote. He tells me you could see the tornado right there. It was about within a quarter mile of his house.

Now, he just sent us this video. It's just popped into us. If you come back to my screen here, you'll be able to see some of the movements on this tornado. Now I want to emphasize as you take a look at them, let's see if we can zoom way in, he was staying safe. He felt safe inside his home. This was not a situation in which he was going through any danger. We don't want anyone to go to any danger. But look at that right there. He told me when we were speaking on the phone that he could see this tornado picking up debris as it moved along, including large pieces of debris. But of course, you can't see that clearly, so he couldn't quite tell what it was. He said he heard the loud sounds of it coming along. He says it was moving in a direction away from his home, which is one reason he felt safe staying there by his window and getting these photos.

Now obviously, we want to encourage you to send those images as they come in if you can do so safely. We've been talking about the images we're seeing on Twitter here from this hashtag, from Randy and the Band, which is a really striking picture from the university campus.

Now we're getting information from the university itself about some of the buildings that have been damaged, and it does square with what we're seeing here, including an alumni house we're hearing has been damaged as well, the university has been coming out with these lists.

I want to let you know, Brianna, this is really important as people are in this situation, facing potential difficult circumstances in the wake of a tornado. Authorities very frequently and they'll be doing it again now encourage people to please use social media if you're in a position to do so to let your family know you're okay. They don't want the phone lines clogged up because what happens is everyone starts getting calls from everyone around the country who loves them, and that's great. But those phone lines are needed for emergency phone calls. So the encouragement is to definitely use social media if you can.

Also, if for any reason you lose power where you are, be sure to check Twitter and Facebook. I'm @JoshLevsCNN. And when I get off the air here, I'm going to be sending out really important Twitter handles you can follow that will be providing you information from emergency officials inside Mississippi and throughout the region. That way if you lose power but still have your phone, you're still able to get online in some way through your phone, you can get information from that.

Go ahead and send those pictures, those videos, those stories to CNN iReport if you can do so safely. We'll be here throughout the night, Brianna, sharing everything we get.

KEILAR: And it is something you have to consider following storms like this, Josh. Some people, they'll start hearing rumors about maybe what some of the damage is. We heard from someone that were hearing perhaps the dorms were damaged at University of Southern Miss. Not the case, as it turns out, when you look at the Web site there. As you mentioned, it seems like four buildings. And the lucky thing is the students appear to be gone on a long weekend.

LEVS: Yes. In fact, I'll just tell everyone who's concerned about that, most of them are gone. Damage has been confirmed for (INAUDIBLE) Performing Arts Center, Ogletree Alumni House, and Elam Arms, which is vacant. And yes, it worked out very well that most students and a lot of people are gone. There are always some at any given time, but that is one piece of good news that a lot of people were off, especially celebrating Mardi Gras.

KEILAR: Josh, thank you.

He mentioned we've been getting photos from the guy at the Twitter handle, Randy and the Band. That's Randy Wright. He's actually a worship minister at a Baptist church there in Hattiesburg. We spoke with him a short time ago. He was describing these photos to us.

You're looking at a car there in the middle of a baseball diamond at Oak Grove High School. This is a high school in Hattiesburg. Brett Favre is the offensive coordinator there because he actually lives nearby and went to the University of Southern Miss, so that's a role he's serving there in retirement.

But what we heard from Randy -- and this is the story behind that car right there. He said that even though students were practicing at the baseball diamond and the football field where we saw there was tremendous damage, the girls' basketball team was having a practice, and he said he overheard one of the girls come out and say, where's my car? And he thought she was kidding. And she wasn't, because that's her car actually there in the middle of the baseball field.

So, you're dealing with a tremendous number of vehicles that have been flipped over, that have been strewn about like they're toys. And of course, the damage as well to the structures in the area.

We're still trying to get a sense of just what the extent of the -- the damage obviously appears tremendous. But we're trying to get a sense of what some of the injuries are. So far, we have confirmed that there are three injuries. But as emergency crews are making their way to homes, and we've spoke within people who are living on street where is the storm, where the tornado came right through. And they say they've been checking on their neighbors but haven't been able -- even yet, they hear the sirens, but because the roads are so blocked from debris, from pieces of homes, from roofs, trees, that are strewn about about on these roads, emergency services are going through that painstaking process of trying to get to homes, see if people are trapped or injured, which are very real concerns. We expect to be hearing some reports of that.

We're following this as we have new video coming in here of this tornado coming through Hattiesburg, Mississippi, less than - or about two hours ago. We'll continue to follow this and bring you new details after the break.




KEILAR: We're following severe weather in the South, and a tornado that tracked along the ground for several miles near and in the town - or the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Roofs off, cars overturned, power lines down. There are some reports of people injured. That number no doubt will grow. There are concerns about people trapped.

We've been talking with some people who went through this tornado, including one person who the tornado went right over his house. He was able to walk out unscathed. His house not the same, of course.

We also spoke with a storm chaser, John Sibley, who not only watched the tornado as it hit, but he followed it as it tracked several miles along the ground. Take a listen.


KEILAR: Were you able to see this tornado?

JOHN SIBLEY, LIVESTORMSNOW.COM (via telephone): Yes, I was. I picked it up originally as the storm came out of Marion County. There were reports of injuries as well as structures being destroyed in the central part of the county. I pretty much picked it up about five miles to the west of western Hattiesburg. And then the storm basically continued parallel east of 98 -- excuse me, parallel with 98 to the east. Once it crossed over I-59, it turned more towards the north tracking east-northeast. At that point it crossed Highway 98 or what used to be Highway 98 where it changes to Hardy Street, and it struck the University of Southern Mississippi head on.

There is significant damage to the campus as well as surrounding structures. I had tweeted out a picture of a large wedge tornado when it was crossing the road earlier. Directly in front of me is an apartment building. The windows on the south side of the building are blown in. The windows on the north side are blown out. There's also a music studio across the street that's been destroyed as well as a bank that lost its roof.

KEILAR: So tell me a little bit -- we, John, have been looking at a picture of a high school which we now know is Oak Grove High School. I mean thankfully it's a Sunday. That's obviously the good news here. But what can you tell us -- can you see our air, John? SIBLEY: Unfortunately, I can't. From what I can tell you from you what the fire chief has told me, the high school did receive a significant direct hit. It's obvious the students will not be able to attend school tomorrow. But the good news is because it was Sunday at 5:00 no one was on the campus.

KEILAR: So to talk to me a little bit about the impact that this is having in the area, even places that weren't directly hit by this. You're looking at a tremendous loss of power as well.

SIBLEY: Yes. There's a significant loss of property, especially in the area just to my left -- I'm sitting here in a Quick Stop gas station. The pumps were destroyed. They're completely knocked over. Fire crews came out and immediately shut those off. The roof is gone.

To my right there's actually a Toyota Tundra sitting in the middle of the road. All the windows have been blown out and the telephone pole that was on the other side of the street is now on top of the Tundra. The driver was injured. She has been transported to a local hospital.

We're also hearing from fire officials that there are people still trapped from refrigerators and appliances from where they tried to hide in a back corner of a home or an apartment and the appliance fell on top of them. There's currently rescue efforts to free several people that are trapped from being -- from having trees fall on them.

KEILAR: What time did this come through, John?

SIBLEY: This tornado came through just after 5:00 p.m. Luckily because it's later in the year, it wasn't dark early unlike Mobile back on Christmas where it got dark at 5:00. The sun went down here at about 5:45 and you could definitely see the tornado all the way through for about five miles in all directions.

KEILAR: So how long do you -- do you have a sense of how long even just a range, I'm not asking you to be scientific necessarily about it, but how many minutes this may have been on the ground?

SIBLEY: It was on the ground from when we picked it up in Marion County. That was about 45 minutes before it got to Hattiesburg. They had significant warnings from the National Weather Service in Jackson. I have to give them a round of applause, because they had warning after warning letting people know that this was a large tornado that was coming through their area.

Also the local police and fire department were out blocking traffic to try and stop traffic because if someone was on their phone or just not paying attention, they would have driven right into it.

KEILAR: And how much warning did people in the area get that this was heading their way, John? Do you know?

SIBLEY: I would say there was a significant warning because the sirens in Hattiesburg were going off, the talking sirens at the college campus were telling everyone there's a tornado emergency, seek shelter immediately. KEILAR: Now, you are a storm chaser, so you go after these things, and I'm sure you have seen a number of tornadoes.


KEILAR: How does this one compare to some of the ones that you have seen, and in particular how rare is it for it to be near a populated area like we see in the pictures that we're looking at?

SIBLEY: It's not really that rare. The tornadoes really don't pick where they're going to go. When the tornado hit downtown Mobile on Christmas Day, there were tornadoes on the northern part of the county, there were tornadoes in the southern part of the county and then it went through the center part of the county which is where the city of Mobile is.

Also in 2008, you have the tornado that hit Atlanta. I storm chased that one. That was actually about midway through my storm chasing career. But there's really no discretion. The tornadoes don't really pick let's go for this city or let's go for this town versus let's go for this open field. It's just a coin toss if it hits something.

I will say this is one of the larger tornadoes I have seen for the south. You generally don't have large hail and destructive tornadoes here in the south, especially south of I-20. You see that more up in the north Georgia mountains and northern Alabama. But for there to be this large of a tornado come through southern Mississippi and according to the radar continue to track into Alabama, the National Weather Service is going to be picking the scientific data apart for sure.

KEILAR: This is, maybe, this is, perhaps an extraordinary event that we are watching unfold here on some YouTube video posted by someone in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Do you have a sense -- I mean, in your experience what types -- this is what's going on as we know right now, John. We know that there are emergency services, fire department, police, they will be going through some subdivisions. We understand there are a number that may be endangered here. What are they doing and how are they even able to traverse the area? What are their obstacles?

SIBLEY: The obstacles they're having right now is the fire marshal is going through and shutting off the gas to all the businesses. And then they're also going through shutting off gas to the local businesses -- or excuse me, local residences. There's also EMS crews, I'm sure you can hear as another ambulance goes by as they have to traverse this entire damage area.

The damage area from east to west is roughly five blocks. So about three-quarters of a mile. I'm looking around really, really trying to give you a better sense of what's going on. The rain has for the most part let up for the evening, but you have signs down. You have power lines down. The power poles are snapped. There's debris all over the place. There are cars in the middle of the road. There are cars upside down. Like I said, this Toyota Tundra that's in front of me has a power pole through it and it's hung up on the center median. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So we're talking there about a tornado that was on the ground in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This was less than three hours ago. The aftermath is very much in full effect right now there.

But let's get now to meteorologist Tom Sater because you're keeping your eye on Alabama, next door to Mississippi.

SATER: Yes. It's still Thomasville. We've been watching the warnings. There's only three tornado warnings now, which is very good news. We had as many as eight at one point.

But I want to show you something. We went back and we put together the images of our Doppler radar. And we were able to put together an animation so you can see the exact storm that produced that tornado in the Hattiesburg area. Here it is. And if I can ask the director, please feel free to take this full. You're going to see in the center of the screen is Hattiesburg. Notice the circular bands. Now, this is where the Doppler radar is indicating circulation. It moves right through the Hattiesburg area.

It doesn't tell you how long that tornado may have been on the ground. That's the data the National Weather Service and the damage survey, and they will find out.

But what's interesting, that same thunderstorm cell, if you follow it, I believe, is the same one that is giving us the damage we had in Waynesboro and Clara and Buckatoona. So, again, this is a massive storm.

Let me show you what we have left as far as our tornado warnings are in effect. We have three. I mentioned Thomasville. You're under the gun right now. You've got to seek shelter. But it's mainly south of the community of Thomasville.

Three tornado warnings in effect. We actually have four thunderstorm cells that are training. Typically we'll find a massive rain cool the atmosphere enough to de - or to stabilize it so these thunderstorms can't produce these tornadoes. That's not occurring tonight. They're continuing to hold their strength.

Now, notice the orange box that's south of those pink tornado. That's a severe thunderstorm. That's for the third cell. These first two are both in line to move in the Thomasville area. So after the first thunderstorm moves through the area, you've got another one right on its heels. We're going to continue to track all of these more toward the east.

The good news, though, Brianna we're starting to see severe thunderstorm warnings get issues instead of tornado warnings. I mean, our numbers have gone from eight to three. Again, the big concern really now in Alabama in the Thomasville area and those to the east, across the border of Mississippi as mentioned where we had the damage, around Buckatoona and Clare. But I think it's the same thunderstorm that's produced all of this damage. That's a large swath of damage across Mississippi into Alabama.

KEILAR: It is, Tom. We'll be keeping an eye on that. Thank you for that.

Let's go now on the phone to Sheriff Billy McGee, who's the sheriff of Forest County, which is where Hattiesburg is, which is where this tornado tracked on the ground for several miles.

Sheriff, can you give us an update on the situation now that you're in the process of trying to assess the damage?

SHERIFF BILLY MCGEE, FOREST COUNTY (via telephone): We've had 10 to 15 individuals who were transported to the hospital. None of them were serious. There are no fatalities at this time. We're still finding people who are trapped in their homes. Hit the University of Southern Mississippi campus. It hit a town in the county - city known as Pedal, Mississippi. They had an ACE Hardware completely demolished and several houses in that part of the county, and then it went into the rural part of the county where they had less damage. Most of the damage was done inside of the city limits of Hattiesburg and University of Southern Mississippi campus. The lower part of Hattiesburg, Bowie Street, that area. And then into Tuttle (ph).

KEILAR: And Sheriff McGee, let me ask you about this, because we've spoken with some people in tremendously damaged areas just a couple blocks from the university who say they checked on their neighbors, things appear to be fine.

You're saying 10 to 15 people to the hospital, but nothing serious, and considering that this tornado hit the university on a long weekend while a lot of students are away, that it hit the high school and it's a Sunday evening, so you didn't have students there. This is pretty fortuitous that it happened at this time, isn't it?

MCGEE: We've been mighty fortunate, mighty lucky. We feel we've been blessed.

KEILAR: How is this going to affect things in Hattiesburg tomorrow? How lasting do you think the damage is with power lines down, with trees down? How long do you think these roads will be impassable?

MCGEE: Well, it's continued to rain throughout the night. And we've got prediction for rain tomorrow and Tuesday. So, except for emergency situations, I don't look for the power companies to be doing a lot with the rain as hard as it is until it breaks. I'm sure they'll try to make some connections to residences and that type of thing.

But there's quite a few homes without power at this point, and quite a few trees on houses, on cars, that type of thing. It's been widespread destruction.

KEILAR: How many jurisdictions do you have lending a hand here? I imagine that there are EMS and fire and police coming from other counties to help out. MCGEE: I'm not -- I talked to our ambulance provider, and he said most of what he has dealt with thus far are the walking wounded. He has not had anybody seriously injured. I don't know if he's asked for help at this point. He's the only one I've talked to. The fire departments I've seen so far have been local fire departments with Hattiesburg (INAUDIBLE). And I don't know whether the state (INAUDIBLE). The county right next to us was also hit, Lamar County. Unfortunately, Lamar County was (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: And we will be trying to get a sense of what the damage is there as well. Sheriff Billy McGee, as you put it, your community, they're blessed by, I think, the timing of this. We'll keep our fingers crossed right now as we can report so far that there are no fatalities. We obviously hope that continues to be the case.

We're going to get a short break in. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: We are monitoring severe weather in the South. Dangerous weather heading for southwestern Alabama, or actually it's been sort of moving out of the area and - on some of these severe bands. We're definitely keeping our eye on Alabama right now.

This is the tornado that hit Hattiesburg, Mississippi next door. From what we've seen, the damage is extensive there, particularly on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. The good news is that the campus was actually deserted this weekend for a Mardi Gras holiday. Heavy damage as well at Oak Grove High School where Brett Favre is the offensive coordinator for the football team there. He comes from a community nearby.

So far, we've heard from the local sheriff, 10 to 15 people injured but minor injuries. They've gone to the hospital. No reports of fatalities. That is tremendous news at this point.

Meteorologist Chad Myers here with details. Chad, you're keeping your eye on Alabama.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think it's still early to figure out that Hattiesburg is really okay because this was a very large tornado. You could see that tornado on the ground for a very long time. We watched it on the radar for a long time as well. Just rotating right through that west Hattiesburg area and right along that Oak Grove road. It wasn't turning to the north. It was almost sliding directly from west to east across the city, where we were just hoping it would finally get north of Hattiesburg as it tried to make its way. And then finally a slight left turn as it made its way just north of west Hattiesburg and missing the real populated area there of Hattiesburg, Mississippi itself.

But obviously, you know, Southern Miss really hit pretty hard there. I just couldn't believe it when I heard -- I think it was a pastor on the air. And he told us live on the air that there were not very many people on campus because literally they were all on holiday. I went, I can't believe that. How is that possible? Because there could have been so many students in those dorms, at that fraternity row and sorority row right there on the west side of that Southern Miss campus. Boy, that was a tremendous benefit that those kids were not there.

KEILAR: Definitely very fortuitous. It is early, as you say, but we'll be keeping our fingers crossed and monitoring the situation to see as this develops.

I'm Brianna Keilar at the CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta. And actually first, before we say good-bye, let's listen to some of the video that we have from Hattiesburg.


KEILAR: We'll be dissecting that tornado you see there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, ahead of us at 10:00 p.m. Eastern ahead of us. But we just want to get you to our next program.

I'm Brianna Keilar at the CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta. I'll see you back here in an hour.