Suspected tornado hits Ocean Springs Walmart; storm leaves damage Coastwide

A tornado possibly hit in East Jackson County on Thursday morning, blowing out windows at the Walmart Supercenter, downing trees in subdivisions and on cars, damaging roofs, and pulling material from storage sheds, emergency manager Earl Etheridge said.

“I’m not saying there was a tornado,” Etheridge said. “The National Weather Service will have to confirm. We do have reports from the public that they saw a tornado on the ground.

“I do have pretty good suspicions there was a tornado in the area.”

A survey team from the weather service was leaving mid-morning Thursday from Slidell, Louisiana, for Jackson County. The team will survey damage from Ocean Springs north to Escatawpa, meteorologist Chris Bannan said.

“We will see what is straight-line (wind) damage and what could possibly have been a tornado,” Bannan said.

Officials across the Coast also have reported downed trees, flooded roads, downed power lines and power outages.

Walmart in Ocean Springs remained open after winds blew out the front windows and damaged its roof and a trailer out back. Workers found damage to their cars in the parking lot as well, an unidentified employee said.

Longtime Ocean Springs resident Nick Carzoli said the sound of the storm “was unlike any I’ve ever heard. If it wasn’t a tornado, I’ll eat my hat.”

At the peak of the storm in the predawn hours, about 2,000 customers of Coast Electric were without power, while Mississippi Power reported about 700 customers with no power, Lacy said.

Standing water was reported in several areas of U.S. 90, which typically floods with heavy rainfall. Two to four inches of rain was expected until around noon, but Etheridge said heavy winds have died down.

Cedar Lake Road north of Interstate 10 in Biloxi was closed in both directions because of flooding. At least two vehicles there went underwater when motorists drove around barricades, Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy said. Firefighters helped them out of the water.

In Harrison County, trees fell across Moran Road, Mississippi 53 and Old Highway 49 and at Lizana Elementary, Lacy said.

Minor damages reported in Biloxi included Souvenir City on U.S. 90.

Harrison County fire and road departments were working to remove debris in several areas, Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said.

“We were blessed,” Lacy said. “It was actually less damaging, much better than what it could have been with this system.”

No major damage was reported in Hancock County, but one tree fell on a road and 49 streets had minor flooding, causing only inconveniences, emergency manager Brian “Hooty” Adam said.

The Bay-Waveland tide gauge was 3.47 feet about normal when roads were checked at 2:10 a.m. Street flooding normally starts when the tide gauge gets up to 3.3 feet, Adam said.

The severe thunderstorms were reported at 5:27 a.m. in a line from 13 miles west of Saucier to 6 miles north of Diamondhead near Kiln, the National Weather Service in New Orleans said. The storm moved east at 40 mph with 60 mph gusts.

At least two school districts — Hancock and Stone counties — delayed bus routes until the worst of the storms passed.

Power outages

About 1,600 homes and businesses were without electrical power as of about 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

1,299 without power in Pearl River County.

1,580 Coast Electric customers without power: 189 — Hancock; 98 — Harrison; 1,299 — Pearl River.

1,704 Mississippi Power customers without power statewide, only 18 of those from Long Beach to Pass Christian.

By noon, outage maps showed 21 Mississippi Power customers without service in Poplarville, Wiggins and Pearlington. The Coast Electric map showed three outages, one in Hancock County and two in Harrison County.

Robin Fitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews
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