The wreckage of Hunt Success Academy and Sim Scott Park are pictured in this aerial photo. Photo by: Courtesy photo
February 25, 2019 10:20:30 AM
The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-3 tornado touched down in Columbus at about 5:14 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
NWS crews came to Columbus Sunday to determine the storm's path and classification. On Twitter, the NWS posted that the tornado developed near the southwest edge of the city. NWS identifies an EF-3 tornado as a strong storm on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which ranges from EF-0 to EF-5, with an EF-5 being the most destructive.
With tornado winds topping out at 137 miles per hour, the storm traveled northeast from Main Street downtown. Growing in strength, it continued toward Tuscaloosa Road. After traveling nearly 10 miles, the tornado weakened just before approaching the Alabama State line at about 5:32 p.m. Its path was as wide as 440 yards (roughly a quarter-mile), NWS tweeted.
In less than 20 minutes, the tornado left a path of destruction throughout the city. The Dispatch previously reported the tornado resulted in one death, Ashley Glynell Pounds, 41, of Tupelo.
Pounds was one of four people in a Tuscaloosa Road building that collapsed during the storm. She was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, where she died during surgery, Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said. At least 17 others were also hospitalized on Saturday with non life-threatening injuries, according to Lowndes County Emergency Management director Cindy Lawrence.
During the storm, both Sim Scott Park Community Center and Hunt Success Academy, both located on 20th Street North, suffered severe roof damage, and a roof from a business on Tuscaloosa Road was in a nearby tree. Multiple buildings east of the intersection of Tuscaloosa Road and Gardner Boulevard were damaged or destroyed, including Columbus Fire Service, BJ's Dog Grooming, Wright Automotive, First Pentecostal Church, as well as multiple other homes and businesses.
According to city public information officer Joe Dillon, more than 300 volunteers banded together Sunday for property recovery and cleanup efforts.
"It's a bright and better day for Columbus," Dillon said. "We've made a lot of progress in the short period of time. The system is working. Things are getting better and we're working as quickly as possible to restore essential services to everybody that's affected. We're not letting up. We're not taking our foot off the gas. This is a long period of recovery and we'll continue to hit it hard until it's done."
Dillon added the city of Columbus is opening a volunteer resource center to organize volunteers who want to help with cleanup. He said those who have supplies or food to donate, it can be dropped off at the city resource center at 1605 Main St., near the police station. Volunteers interested in assisting city-wide cleanup, call 855-443-5726.
"We want volunteers to call the resource center, if you want to help," Dillon said. "We will reach back out to you and tell you where we need you to go."
Todd Gale, with Columbus Light and Water, said approximately 900 residents are without power this morning, a drastic decrease from the 4,700 residents in the dark on Saturday night. The majority of the power outages are on or around 15th Street North. Power companies from Starkville, West Point, Amory, Aberdeen, Tupelo and Louisville have assisted the CLW with repairs.
Gale could not estimate when the remaining power outages will be restored.
"It's still going to be a long go because of trees and lines down in people's backyards," Gale said. "But we've got those additional crews helping so we're going to get power back as soon as we can."
Michelle Whittle, operations manager with Golden Triangle Atmos Energy, confirmed less than 20 people are without gas as of this morning. Whittle said that the houses without gas were partially or totally damaged and people are "not living there anyway."
Reinforcements from the Atmos branch in Tupelo came to help with gas leaks and outages.
"We've gotten to the point where people can use their water heater and ranges, but until they get their electricity on, there's not much else they can use gas for," Whittle said. "But where we found leaks, we fixed them right away."
The Townsend Community Center, 826 15th St. S., is currently open and being operated as a shelter for those in need. For those in need of assistance, call Lawrence at 662-329-5110. For those who want to volunteer, call United Way interim director Renee Sanders at 662-570-9045.
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