A strong tornado killed at least four people in southern Mississippi and left many others trapped in their homes after touching down in the hours before sunrise on Saturday, local and state officials said.
The tornado, which touched down at about 3:45 a.m. Central time (0945 GMT), reduced some buildings to splinters, downed power lines and was strong enough to flip over cars, according to photographs shared by the city of Hattiesburg on social media.
At least four people were confirmed dead, according to the city, and many people were trapped in their houses, Glen Moore, the director of Forrest County Emergency Management, told a local ABC news affiliate. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency put the confirmed death toll at three, and said at least 20 people suffered injuries.
About 45,000 people live in Hattiesburg, a city about 110 miles (177 km) northeast of New Orleans. Mayor Johnny DuPree declared a state of emergency, and residents were warned to stay off roads. Police and firefighters were going to door to door to rescue people, the city said.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant also declared a state of emergency and said he would travel to the affected areas later on Saturday to survey the damage. More than 16,000 people were without electricity in the state, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.
Officials closed Interstate 59 north of Hattiesburg, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.
Forecasters are predicting thunderstorms for the Hattiesburg area through Sunday morning, according to AccuWeather.
Tornados were also spotted in Pike, Lee and Chambers counties in neighboring Alabama, but there were no initial reports of damage. A tornado watch was in effect through east central and southeastern parts of both states.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Frank McGurty; editing by Andrew Bolton, Franklin Paul and G Crosse)