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Tornado leaves damage in Hattiesburg

8:42 AM, Feb 11, 2013   |    comments
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A tornado struck the Hattiesburg, Miss., area Sunday, causing major damage and injuring at least three people, emergency officials said.

Jeff Rent of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there were no immediate reports of deaths despite widespread visible damage. More than a dozen people have been injured.

Rent said witnesses and videos made at the scene confirmed a tornado touched down and moved through at least two counties.

"We're still in response mode," Rent said. "Search-and-rescue operations are going on, going door-to-door in damaged areas.

The University of Southern Mississippi campus was among the areas hit by the storm, as was a main street that passes by the university.

The university released a statement saying several buildings had been damaged, but no injuries were reported. Campus police declared a state of emergency and asked anyone not on campus to stay away.

The Ogletree Alumni House on campus was severely damaged.

The Hattiesburg American reported that power lines and debris were a hazard along Old Highway 11.

According to Lamar County Schools Superintendent Ben Burnett, Oak Grove High School suffered structural damage.

"Within seconds, everything changed," Sara Lawrence of Hattiesburg told CNN. "I didn't feel like there was much notice. I heard the sirens and everything looked OK outside. ...Then, next thing I know, all the lights went out, and it got dark outside."

Just outside Columbia, Miss., Marion County Emergency Director Aaron Greer said there were injuries in the community of Pickwick.

Tornado watches and warnings remained in effect for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The National Weather Service said bad weather is likely to stretch into Fat Tuesday in southeast Louisiana.

William M. Welch, USA TODAY