MAGEE, Miss. (AP) — Severe weather across the South unleashed tornadoes in rural Mississippi, including one that shattered dozens of homes, flattened a church and injured at least 17 people, authorities said Thursday.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities, Magee Mayor Jimmy Clyde said. The most seriously injured were hospitalized, but most others had minor injuries.
The twister was reported around 1:30 a.m., and swept through Mississippi's pine-covered hill country as severe thunderstorms rumbled across several Southeast states. Power blackouts affected tens of thousands of Louisiana residents, and authorities reported damage to some Alabama homes. Georgia residents also braced for potentially heavy rains.
"This is like reliving Hurricane Katrina all over again and that's no fun," Clyde told The Associated Press. "We're getting a lot of help in here. That's the thing about Mississippi, everybody just helps each other in times like this."
Clyde said authorities were attempting to restore power after utility lines toppled on roads littered with tree branches and metal scrap. Magee's 16-member police force fanned out before dawn and kept up the work after daylight. He said homes in some areas were "basically leveled" and there was extensive damage just outside the city limits.
Jeff Giachelli, 48, said he and his wife Cappy were asleep when the storm hit. He said he called to his wife when the windows of their red-brick home shattered. His roof also had been sheared off.
"We got in the closet and it just collapsed," he said.
Giachelli, his black Harley Davidson cap at an angle as he picked up tree limbs from his yard, said one of his neighbors was taken by helicopter to a hospital. He said it took rescuers nearly an hour to dig the neighbor out of the rubble.
In a nearby neighborhood, several brick duplex apartments were smashed, and cars were flipped upside down.
Stephanie Malley, 35, cried as she looked at what was left of her home. The red brick structure was nothing but a shell with its roof gone. She awoke when something flew through her window and hit her in the back. She grabbed her 11- and 13-year-old sons and pulled them into the bathroom.
"We stayed in the bathroom for a long time until everything started coming down," Malley said.
Her 11-year-old needed nine stitches for a cut on his leg, but otherwise the family was fine. Nearby houses were marked with red spray paint to show that emergency workers who dug through the rubble didn't find any injured or dead residents.
"I lost everything," she said, wiping away tears.
At least 60 homes suffered damage, said Katherine Gunby, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The nearby Corinth Baptist Church was so shattered that "only the doors to its sanctuary were left standing," she said.
Members of the 100-year-old church stepped around the rubble of the red brick building perched on a hilltop overlooking pine forests, consoling one another. Others walked through a nearby cemetery littered with broken tree limbs and tombstones knocked to the ground. Pieces of artificial flowers from the graves were strewn all about and a white church van was overturned.
A tearful Maegan Errington, 23, said Thursday was her birthday and she was to be married in the church on Saturday. Church member Charlene Loyd, 58, hugged her and patted her on the back.
"Our church is still here, because our church is the people, but the building is gone," Loyd said.
Another reported tornado touched down in Mississippi's Lauderdale County around midday Wednesday, heavily damaging nine homes and a business, but no injuries were reported, emergency officials said.
Associated Press writer Chris Talbott contributed to this report from Jackson.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.