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Mississippi Storm Kills Three

Residents of Hattiesburg were cleaning up Saturday from a deadly storm that resulted in three fatalities and damage to dozens of home.

The storm packed winds of 70 mph swept through the south Mississippi town Friday night. Some 15,000 people in the city of 48,000 were still without power Saturday.

Falling trees killed three motorists in separate accidents, and at least 45 people were injured, none seriously, said city emergency management director Terry Steed. The victims had not been identified Saturday.

At least 32 houses were damaged, but none was destroyed.

Steed said an aerial view of the area looks like a tornado to him. But the National Weather Service said it was line of severe thunderstorms with very strong straight-line winds.

Gov. Kirk Fordice on Saturday declared a state of emergency in 18 counties from the storm.

The declaration encompasses Adams, Copiah, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, George, Hinds, Jasper, Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lowndes, Marion, Neshoba, Perry, Pike, Simpson and Smith counties.

The declaration provides help in those areas to clear roads of debris, deal with possible public health problems and other assistance.

Thunderstorms also damaged other areas of Mississippi during the night, knocking out power to thousands of customers.

DeSoto County, near Memphis, Tenn., had widespread wind damage early Friday.

"We've probably got between $2 million-$3 million in damage throughout the county," said T.H. Walker, the county's emergency management director. "There are hundreds of homes with roof damage in the county."

The weather service forecast called for isolated thunderstorms in south Mississippi for Saturday.

A cold front from near Meridian to Brookhaven was pushing southeastward through Saturday and was to move off the coast Saturday night. Weather forecasters said a slowly stabilizing air mass should prevent any storms from being severe.

In Hattiesburg, Steed said most of the major streets and highways through the city were opened overnight. He said interior roads still had downed trees and power lines.

"Traveling is still dangerous in those areas."

Steed said the storm hit from the southwest about 11 p.m. Friday.

"I flew over the area today and there definitely is a tornado path southwest of the city. It came in aloft and then touched down in an area southwest of the city. For three miles, there is a track on the ground, mostly through what is forest land."

"Northwest of the track there are a lot trees down," Steed said.

He said the damage to homes was limited to downed trees and wind damage to roofs.

Elsewhere in south Mississippi, state prison officials reported minor damage to buildings at the penitentiary in Leakesville.

Corrections Department spokesman Ken Jones said there was minor roof damage to the 1,216-bed addition to thprison, but no inmates or staff were injured. He said there was some power loss but that had been restored by mid-day Saturday.

Entergy of Mississippi restored service to nearly 30,000 customers by midnight Friday in the hardest hit areas of Southaven, Grenada, Vicksburg and Senatobia. Some residents of Southaven were still without power but Entergy said they would be taken care of later Saturday.

Adams County authorities said power lines, trees, and telephone lines where down in most of the county.

Warren County authorities reported tree and power line damage, along with large hail.

Similar storm damage was reported elsewhere in central and north Mississippi.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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