April 29, 2014 11:17:31 AM
LOUISVILLE -- Eight people are confirmed dead and an unknown number of people are injured and missing after a Monday afternoon tornado plowed through the city of Louisville.
During an early-morning news conference today, Winston County Coroner Scott Gregory said there were eight confirmed deaths in Louisville, with victims ranging in age from 25-to-75-years old. Search and rescue operations continued this morning.
Gregory said among those injured was a 5-year-old girl who suffered serious injuries at a daycare center where one fatality was reported. Gregory said the girl said another boy might have been at the daycare center at the time the tornado hit, but emergency personnel had not located the missing child and no parent had come forward this morning to report a missing child, he said.
Gregory said "three or four" of the fatalities came in the area of Armstrong and Beal streets.
Emergency management officials said the tornado moved south to north as it entered the city, inflicting major damage to a residential neighborhood near the Kansas City Southern Railroad along Armstrong and Beal streets and Eiland Ave. From there, the tornado moved northeast into an industrial area, then moved toward the Winston Medical Center on Main Street before exiting the city along North Columbus Avenue. The National Weather Service has dispatched personnel to classify the strength of the storm.
Temika Triplett, a local emergency management staffer, said she was working the switchboard at the EMA offices at the courthouse as the tornado approached.
"It was absolute chaos," she said. Triplett said she went outside briefly just as the tornado was approaching. "Terrifying," she said. "Just terrifying. I've never seen anything like it."
Officials said this morning that the focus is on search and recovery, but did not release information on how many injuries were suffered or how many people are missing.
Among the missing were a family of three who lived off of Mississippi Highway 397. One of the dead recovered this morning is believe to be one of those family members, according to Gregory.
"Right now, the focus is on search and rescue operations and we won't have a full assessment of property damage until later," said Brett Carr, public information officer with the Mississippi Emergency Management Authority.
A Mississippi Highway Patrol officer who arrived on the scene Monday evening said the hospital's emergency room had been destroyed. Other parts of the hospital were severely damaged as well, he said, and windows throughout the facility were shattered. It was not known at press time if there were plans to evacuate the entire hospital, although some hospital patients, along with some residents from a nursing home adjacent to the hospital, have been transported to Louisville's First Methodist Church, according to Gregory. Gregory said some displaced families were staying at a shelter at the city's First Baptist Church.
A press release from University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson said as of 8 a.m. today, medical responders in Louisville had transported 37 patients to various hospitals, including 12 adults in critical condition, three children in critical condition, five adults in serious condition and three children in serious condition. Most of the critical patients were taken to UMMC. An additional 50-100 patients were treated and released.
Richard Hilton, CEO at Oktibbeha County Hospital Regional Medical Center in Starkville, said the hospital had dispatched three ambulances to Louisville Monday evening. Hilton said some patients injured in the tornado had arrived at OCH, but he did not know how many. He said OCH would likely receive some patients from Louisville. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle confirmed this morning that some patients from Louisville had been transported to Columbus.
Rescue crews have had to deal with power outages throughout the city. In addition, a Verizon cellular communications tower was destroyed, further compromising communications in town.
This morning, downtown Louisville was swarming with first responders and state agency personnel from as far away as Biloxi as church bells peeled mournfully over the fog-shrouded landscape.
Kurt Rosenhan, fire services coordinator at Oktibbeha County Emergency Services, said four county fire crews were sent to Louisville shortly after the tornado hit. Rosenhan said his crews had to cut their way through the debris that obstructed the Highway 25 as the crews made their way into the city. He said crews encountered some displaced residents and performed some paramedic services. He said one of the crews reported seeing one of the tornado's fatalities.
Starkville Electric Department General Manager Terry Kemp said a construction crew SED contracts with is currently in Louisville to help clear roadways.
MEMA officials said this morning that most of the major roads into Louisville had been cleared, but that smaller roads remain closed, due primarily to debris and downed power lines.
Relief efforts were being organized this morning. A post from Strange Brew Coffee House's Instagram account in Starkville encouraged people to drop off donations of water, food, clothing, blankets, pillows, towels, toiletries, rakes, tarps and gloves to Starkville drop-off locations at Strange Brew, LA Green, Thyme, Juva Juice, The Veranda, 929 Coffee House, Midtown Pilates and Sprout.
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