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Tornado Strikes Mississippi Town

Aired December 19, 2002 - 15:18   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue to follow this breaking news out of Newton, Mississippi. That's just east of Jackson, Mississippi, where we have now confirmed, a violent tornado sparked from a line of powerful thunderstorms has ripped through that area, ripped through a shopping center, a Wal-Mart store. Officials are now saying there are fatalities and injuries.
On the phone from the National Weather Service: Alan Gerard in Jackson, Mississippi.

Alan, can you update us on the storm?

ALAN GERARD, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: The storm that actually produced the damage in Newton County has now moved well to the east and weakened somewhat. We saw severe thunderstorm warnings out east of that area, but the actual storm that went through Newton about an hour ago has weakened quite a bit.

PHILLIPS: And can you tell us the status of this tornado now? Where is it heading, any additional touchdowns that we haven't reported?

GERARD: We have not had any additional reports of any touchdowns.

And, in fact, we are getting ready to send a crew over to Newton to inspect the damage there to determine, to confirm that it was a tornado vs. strong straight-line winds. At the present time, it sounds like there was substantial damage. So, we need to go in there and see exactly how bad the damage is.

PHILLIPS: And are you tracking this tornado? Can you tell us where it's headed? Where is the system right now?

GERARD: The storm that produced that damage in Newton has now moved east into Lauderdale County, near the Meridian area, where we have a severe thunderstorm warning out in that area.

At the present time, indications are that the tornado itself, if it was a tornado that produced the damage in Newton, has actually -- that storm has weakened quite a bit. We're monitoring some other strong to severe storms that we have severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings out east and south of that area, including areas around Hattiesburg and Meridian, Mississippi.

PHILLIPS: OK, you're saying you have to confirm that indeed it was a tornado that struck that area. Are we safe to say this is a tornado?

GERARD: Well, we did have indications on radar that there was potential for straight-line winds of 80 to 100 miles an hour in that area.

So, until we actually get on the ground and actually inspect the damage and the pattern of the damage, we can't really confirm whether or not it was a tornado or straight-line winds. It does sound like there was substantial structural damage. So, it's quite possible there was a tornado. But we really can't confirm that one way or the other until we actually are able to survey the damage.

PHILLIPS: And you were talking about monitoring the radars. Can you talk to us about warnings? Did you have any warnings that this system was coming into these areas?

GERARD: Yes, we did have a severe thunderstorm -- we've issued a number of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings for that area.

At this point, like I said, we're still checking to see -- we're going to check to see exactly what kind of damage occurred in that area. But we have had a number of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings out for a large part of Eastern Mississippi through the afternoon hours.

PHILLIPS: Now, Alan, 80 to 100 miles per hour. You're described these winds at those speeds. Put that into perspective for us; 100 miles an hour, that can uproot homes? Kind of give us an idea of how destructive 100-mile-per-hour winds are.

GERARD: One-hundred-mile-an-hour winds could certainly do significant damage. It can destroy a mobile home, uproot large trees, take roofs off of businesses.

Generally speaking, 100-mile-an-hour winds would not do structural damage to a home. It could do significant roof damage. But, generally speaking, if you're talking about a mobile home that's undergone significant damage, that can certainly occur from 100 mile- an-hour winds, and substantial damage to roofs, trees, power lines, that sort of thing.

PHILLIPS: So, the storm system, the area that it hit and some other areas, allegedly, that it has moved into, one of the areas being near U.S. Highway 80 in Newton. Are you recommending that people stay off the highway at this point?

GERARD: Oh, absolutely. We would want people to stay out of that area.

Obviously, with that kind of damage, there's a number of emergency crews and whatnot in that area. And we would really recommend that people try to stay away from that area and let the emergency services people do their jobs.

PHILLIPS: And we're looking at new radar pictures in right now. We're seeing Hattiesburg, Jackson, Alexandria, Meridian, Greenville, a number of areas, and sort of seeing where this system is going.

What should people be doing right now that are listening to you, listening to me, not quite sure if they should leave their homes? What are certain areas where people need to start taking precaution right now? What do they need to do?

GERARD: Well, clearly, anybody that's east of the line of thunderstorms that's producing this damage, which right now is generally running along Interstate 59 from near the Mississippi- Alabama border, down into Southeast Mississippi and Southeast Louisiana, anybody that's east of that, there's a tornado watch is in effect for that area.

They need to be monitoring the weather closely. If there's a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning issued for your area, you want to get into an interior room of your home. Even if it's just a severe thunderstorm warning, as we discussed, that can produce winds of 80 to 100 miles an hour. And, certainly, in this kind of situation, that's a possibility. So you want to treat it very seriously.

Move inside, away from -- get as far away from outside walls as possible and just take safety. If you're in a mobile home, you really want to try to get out of there and get to a substantial structure. A mobile home cannot really survive winds like we're talking about, 80 to 100 miles an hour. You can have substantial damage occur to a mobile home with that kind of wind.

PHILLIPS: Alan Gerard with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi, thank you so much for the update and the time.

Tracking the tornado, we're on it. We'll bring you as much information as we can by the second. We have got crews out chasing the storm right now. As soon as we get pictures and more information, we'll bring it to you.


PHILLIPS: We continue to track the tornado now.

We don't know how many yet, but deaths and injuries are reported from the touchdown of this powerful tornado near Jackson, Mississippi. We're talking about Newton, being specific. Newton is where it did touch down. It ripped through a Wal-Mart store packed with holiday shoppers, we're told. A National Weather Service forecaster tell us that winds were recorded of 80 to 100 miles per hour.

On the phone now is Terry McKinon. He is at the BP station, gas station in Newton, very close to the Wal-Mart.

Terry, can you tell us what happened? What did you see? What did you hear? Give us a feel for what it's like in Newton right now.

TERRY MCKINON, EYEWITNESS: Well, we were inside our store.

We can't see towards the direction that the tornado came, but the winds got real strong. The debris and garbage cans and stuff started flying off our parking lot. And, about that time, I could hear the rumbling of the tornado. And we kept hearing it rumble and rumble. And then, when the winds ceased down, I went outside to see and I looked up the road and there was trucks turned upside down on the highway.

A Subway shop right up the road was flattened. The Sonic Drive- In hamburger place was flattened. And several small little buildings was all turned upside down.

PHILLIPS: What about people? Did you see, happen to see any injured people? Are you seeing rescue crews out there?

MCKINON: Rescue crews are on the site, power crews. And they're trying to block the traffic off.

PHILLIPS: Are you looking at it right now, Terry?

MCKINON: No, ma'am. I'm inside my building.


MCKINON: We lost power. And I've stayed here with my business.

PHILLIPS: And are you safe?

MCKINON: Yes, ma'am.


Are you able to get to a point that would still be safe, where you could look out a window or a door and sort of describe to us what you're seeing?

MCKINON: Well, I don't have a line, a phone line on the outside, where I could do that.

PHILLIPS: OK. No problem.

MCKINON: But I've been watching outside there. They're trying to get the trucks out of the road. And power crews are trying to erect poles and stuff.

PHILLIPS: So, is your business -- did you receive any damage?

MCKINON: No, ma'am. We were lucky. We were lucky. It was about 100 yards up the road, or maybe less, from where we're located.

PHILLIPS: Well, clean living for you, Terry McKinon.

Tell us what else -- are you getting any calls from neighboring businesses? Have you made any calls to neighboring friends?

MCKINON: I've tried, but I understand most of the lines are down. I've had people from Meridian, nearby Meridian, call and check in on their people who can't get through. So, we're lucky to have our phone line, I guess. PHILLIPS: Tell us about Newton. How big is Newton? And this area where this Wal-Mart is, is that a real popular place for shopping? Are there other businesses around there?

MCKINON: Yes, ma'am.

It's in a little shopping center. There are several businesses there. But it kind of just went through the edge of that. Most damage seems like that Subway building and the pizza -- I mean in the Sonic building, what most of the damage are. And they had a little small -- little several small buildings out, and a little shop out there that uprooted.

I understand it went across the interstate. There's trucks down on the Interstate 20. And some businesses on Highway 15 by I-20, you know, heavily damaged. And we're out from downtown. Downtown, I hear there's some buildings down and blowed away.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, Terry McKinon, owner of the BP gas station there in Newton, right close to the Wal-Mart, where that tornado touched down, we are glad you are safe and you didn't get any damage to your business, sir. Thank you for your insight to what's happening there in Newton.

We have our Chad Myers on the line now, our meteorologist. He's tracking this tornado also. Chad, what do you got for us?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Kyra, yes, keep looking at the radar now that we have up on the screen and you can see that there are more lines of showers and thunderstorms still to the south of Hattiesburg. I mean, this storm is not over. The cell that made the tornado or the potential tornado for the Newton County area, yes, it has dissipated and moved to the northeast, but there are still so many more storms that still could produce rotation, and so could produce tornadoes. That's why the tornado watch is still issued.

PHILLIPS: OK. So let's talk areas here. As we're looking at these pictures, what do you think? Let's talk about kind of where it's moving, what areas. Maybe some possible -- some specific areas, Chad, where people need to be paying attention to weather, not getting in their car, maybe taking some precautions at home.

MYERS: Sure. I'm very concerned, Kyra, with the southern half of the tornado watch box. Now, the tornado watch. We talk about the big red squares. And you'll see maybe four or five different squares throughout that animation there, because the tornadoes have been moving from west to east, and so have the boxes. And following the line, the severe line, the squall line, if you will, to the east.

Now, as we get one cell out by itself, you'll see one very red and severe cell south of Hattiesburg to the north of, like, say Pensacola and Mobile there. That is the cell that I'm most concerned about, because it's all by itself. The storms that are all lined up in a row from north to south that are all clustered with each other, those are less of a threat, because those are all fighting for moisture from each other, and it's hard to get rotation with a line of cells.

So when you get one that's out by itself, we call that the big dog or the supercell. It has all the moisture it wants because it's not fighting with other cells, it's not fighting with other storms. It just gets all the moisture, and it can get very large.

Another thing, notice at the bottom of the screen there, above the words "breaking news," that's water. That's the Gulf of Mexico. The water is still 75 or 80 degrees in that area. That's the humidity, that's the fuel to the fire, and all those cells that are right along the Gulf Coast are going to be severe today. Even the ones coming off Louisiana headed to southern Mississippi and Alabama, those are going to be severe and possibly with tornadoes.

Now, just because we don't have warnings in your area, that watch, if you're in that watch box, you need to watch out today. Because any of those cells could become severe.

PHILLIPS: All right. So that's -- when you say watch out, I mean, you're saying if you are in this watch box, not to get in a car? I mean, it's the best thing to do, stay at home, and get down in the basement?

MYERS: The best thing to do, Kyra, is not to panic, first of all. Take a big, deep breath and look outside and say, you know what, the sky is still blue. I'm OK. I can get the pets inside, I can kind of lash down the outside furniture and then come back inside. I don't want to panic anyone here.

The word "warning" is the one you want to worry about. When we say warning, or when you hear the sirens, that means a tornado has been sighted or one is on radar. Doppler radar indicates the rotation.

And Kyra, I was in the office this morning at 3:45. We had rotation at 3:45 in the morning. That's almost 12 hours ago. These storms have been just coming across Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, and now, obviously, moving into Mississippi and Alabama, and possibly even into southern Florida and the panhandle, or western Florida and also western Georgia. The panhandle there for most of the evening.

These storms could just keep going. So warning is the worst one that you want to -- warning is the worst one. "Watch" means that it could be there for -- and this watch could be out for hours and hours and hours. A warning is usually only issued for like 30 minutes, and for county by county, not for state for state.

PHILLIPS: All right. Because I'm reading a tornado warning...

MYERS: There you go.

PHILLIPS: ... was out for east and southeast Mississippi until 6:00 tonight.

MYERS: Now, watch your word there, Kyra. PHILLIPS: Well, that's what I'm saying. I've been told warning and watch. So it is watch?

MYERS: It's a watch. A watch is out until 6:00. Warnings are only issued for about 30 to 45 minutes and for specific counties. And sometimes only northern parts or eastern parts of counties. And so it really is a problem, and I know even my mom watches TV all the time and she gets confused about watches and warnings. And she basically took her kid all the way through college, through meteorology school, and she still gets concerned.

A watch is -- a watch means that a large area could possibly have a storm that could contain tornadoes. Now, there's a lot of ifs, and ifs and maybes in there. But a warning means, I'm warning you, it means that this storm is already on the ground or indicated by Doppler radar, and it's there. It is there

I'm warning you, it's there. And that's the word you always want to watch for. When that comes out, when a warning comes out, you absolutely want to stay inside, get out of the cars, get back in the house, get in the lowest level and stay away from windows. More people, Kyra, are injured by flying debris than actually sucked up in a tornado.

This is not Kansas, and even this Toto thing and Dorothy being picked up by a tornado, this does not happen. But what people do is they go outside and they go, ooh, look at that big, dark cloud. And a shingle is moving at 120 miles an hour or a 2 x 4 is flying by. That's how people are injured. So if you stay inside, you are 100 to 200 times safer than if you would be anywhere near some glass or a window. Just stay at home and just stay inside.

PHILLIPS: You bring up a good point. In talking with Alan Gerard (ph) at the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi, and we were talking about the 80 to 100 mile-per-hour winds. Obviously, that's where the destruction and where the danger is for people. In addition, I mean, how -- can we get past 100 miles per hour here?

MYERS: Do we get past it? I'm sorry, I didn't understand the question.

PHILLIPS: Yes, the winds. I mean, could we see 110, 120? I mean, how fast could these winds get going?

MYERS: Typically, straight-line winds will max out about 100 to maybe 120, although typically the number is 100. Now that's the wind that goes in one direction from a storm that blows all of its energy out to one direction, out ahead of, or to the side or maybe even behind. But typically, ahead of the storm.

What we really watch is these F-scale, the F-1, F-2, F-3, F-4 and F-5 in tornadoes, because they are in a spinning rotation, almost like Dorothy Hamill doing a spin on ice. When she brings her arms in and legs in, she can go quite quickly. And storms there, winds can be well in excess of 200 miles per hour. Even today, I'm thinking a tornado with an F-2 possibility, maybe an F-3, could be 175 to 200 miles per hour.

PHILLIPS: All right. Meteorologist Chad Myers tracking the tornado for us also. Chad, thank you so much. If you're just tuning in, you're watching breaking news. We got word that a tornado, a violent tornado, a spark from a line of powerful thunderstorms, ripped through a Wal-Mart store in Newton. A Wal-Mart store that was in a shopping center.

Fatalities and injuries have been reported. We don't know how many at this point. We're trying to work that and find out. This shopping area was hit along US Highway 80 in Newton. We're told that the store was jammed with holiday shoppers.

We were talking with some local residents, business owners in the area, telling us that trucks on the highway were overturned, a number of businesses were flattened. It sounds pretty chaotic when you listen to the testimony of business owners in the area. We're trying to get more people on the phone.

Our affiliates are headed out that way to get video for us. We're tracking the tornado, going to bring you as much information as possible, but if you do live east or southeast of Mississippi, there is a tornado watch until 6:00 PM. So pay attention to your weather report. We're going to take a break. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: Hello again. I'm Kyra Phillips at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

If you're just tuning in, we are tracking a violent tornado that was sparked from a line of powerful thunderstorms that ripped through a Wal-Mart store in Newton, Mississippi. That's just east of Jackson, Mississippi. And we are told that there are fatalities, and injuries.

We're told that the storm system hit a shopping area where that Wal-Mart store was right along US Highway 80 in Newton. We're told that that store was jammed with holiday shoppers. Local officials haven't been able to give us any numbers of the dead or injured. We're working that right now.

And I'm told that we have on the phone with us Reverend George Smith. He lives in Newton. Reverend, I was told that your daughter was at this Wal-Mart store. Is that right?


PHILLIPS: And she's OK?

G. SMITH: She's fine. She had a couple of windows knocked out of her car and a few dents on the car.

PHILLIPS: Well, tell me where you are right now. Are you at home?

G. SMITH: I'm at home. PHILLIPS: OK. So are you able -- how close are you to where this tornado touched down? What can you see?

G. SMITH: Approximately maybe a half a mile. I left here to go check on one of my members grandsons, and I went through the west side of town, and there's a lot of trees that have -- that are down and a lot of them on houses. Some roofs blown off. And I've seen some trailers that had been damaged real bad.

PHILLIPS: Now how old is your daughter that was at this Wal-Mart that got hit?

G. SMITH: She's how old? 28.

PHILLIPS: Can we talk to her? Can you hand her the phone?

G. SMITH: You sure can.

PHILLIPS: OK, great. Thanks, reverend.



PHILLIPS: Denise, can you hear me? OK. Just wanted to make sure we got you on the phone. I just wanted to make sure you were old enough to talk to us. I didn't know what your age was. We appreciate you getting on the line with us.

Tell us, were you at the Wal-Mart shopping? Kind of give us a play-by-play of what happened and where you were.

D. SMITH: No. I work there. I work back in electronics, and the lights flashed about four or five times. The last time, they completely went out. The time the lights went off, the tornado hit the store.

PHILLIPS: And so, when it hit the store, how much of the store did it hit? What did people start doing? What did you do?

D. SMITH: Well, I was in the back of the store, so I didn't see the front. It hit the front of the store first and busted out all of the glass in the front of the store. And I could see the roof, and I could see it coming, like, towards the back, and all of the roof started caving in.

PHILLIPS: Started caving in? What did you do?

D. SMITH: Hit the floor.

PHILLIPS: Hit the floor. You've been trained well. OK. So you hit the floor, and then at what point did you realize it was safe to get up and get out of there?

D. SMITH: After everything, after all the noise and stuff was gone, and everybody started getting up. PHILLIPS: Were you able to see how many people were injured?

D. SMITH: No, because the store was completely dark. And by that time, everybody was calling out for each other and trying to see was everybody all right.

PHILLIPS: And did rescue crews get there immediately and start trying to figure out if anyone had been killed or getting there trying to treat injuries?

D. SMITH: Yeah. They were there. They were coming. There was more coming.

PHILLIPS: And did -- how calm was it?

D. SMITH: When I left or...

PHILLIPS: Well, first when it all went down. Do you think that everybody handled it well and responded to those that were injured?

D. SMITH: Yeah. Real well. Everybody was trying to see about each other.

PHILLIPS: OK. And then when you left, what was the situation like? Did it look like to was under control and those that had been injured were being treated?

D. SMITH: Yeah. They were trying to get some of the injured out of the store and trying to call out and see was anybody left in the store. Seeing was everybody OK.

PHILLIPS: Now, did it all -- do you think -- is it the type of situation where it totally caved in to where it's possible that people are trapped under debris?

D. SMITH: Oh, no.

PHILLIPS: It's not that bad?


PHILLIPS: OK. All right. So it's pretty -- how -- did rescue crews come in with flashlights, and that's how they were searching for people?

D. SMITH: Well, when I was there, a lot of people, you know, that work there, were trying to find flashlights at that time, trying to, you know, find people and see was everybody OK.

PHILLIPS: Well, it's a good thing that you're safe. And I bet your dad is very thankful that you are home safely. Denise, maybe we can check in with you and your father in a little bit. Thank you so much for your time.

And I understand we've got Amy Carruth. She's from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. She's on the phone with us. Obviously, a very busy woman right now. Amy, are you able to confirm how many injuries, how many deaths?

AMY CARRUTH, MISSISSIPPI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Right. Right now I can't confirm any fatalities. We're still working with the ambulance services and the first responders to get that information in. We do have a report of at least 40 injuries, two people are in critical condition. They've been taken to the local hospital.

And we're still -- we still sent more ambulances in from surrounding counties to help the response. To get the information about if there are any confirmed fatalities. We've heard a lot of rumors. We're just trying to see for ourselves if there is any fatalities.

PHILLIPS: OK. And, at this point, no confirmed deaths?

CARRUTH: Right. At this point, I cannot confirm any fatalities, but I can confirm that we've got two people in critical condition, 40 injuries and a lot of damage.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, I can just imagine. Now, the injuries, and those that are in critical condition, are these individuals that were injured at the Wal-Mart?

CARRUTH: I'm not sure. I don't have an exact report of where these people were -- where the injuries came from. I can just tell you that we do have people -- 40 injuries that are being served right now.

PHILLIPS: Was Wal-Mart hit the worst?

CARRUTH: I believe -- well, the Wal-Mart, the La-Z-Boy factory, it's all in the same block of town. So I can't tell you that Wal-Mart was hit the worst. I do know that all of the buildings were heavily damaged.

PHILLIPS: What other buildings are...

CARRUTH: We have a La-Z-Boy factory that's just right next -- right behind the Wal-Mart store. It's one of our largest factories in the state. It's been damaged. There was a Sunflower (ph) grocery store that was damaged. There's some local restaurants that were damaged. And there's a strip mall right there along the area also that has some damage to it.

PHILLIPS: So do you have enough emergency crews to tend to the injured?

CARRUTH: Yes, we do. We've activated our emergency operations here in the center here at (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and under the Health Department, we requested some additional emergency medical responders to go to Newton to assist with the injuries. So we've dispatched crews from surrounding counties, even as far as Rankin (ph) County.

PHILLIPS: All right. Because we want to put this in perspective, Amy. We want to know if this is a situation that is extremely chaotic and there are people that are not getting help.

CARRUTH: No, not at all. When the tornado hit, the sheriff's office got on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is a direct line, and said, please, send help. We need all the help we can get. We've got numerous injuries.

And, at that point in time, we notified the Health Department. And at that point we requested assistance to come in from surrounding counties to make sure that people were -- their needs were addressed immediately.

PHILLIPS: How many people live in Newton?

CARRUTH: The total population is about about -- oh, I don't know off the top of my head. I've got the county...

PHILLIPS: You can give me a guesstimate.

CARRUTH: The county is only 21,000 people. But the town of Newton itself is probably about 6,000 or 7,000 people.

PHILLIPS: OK, six to 7,000 people. So a small percentage of that -- of those people have been effected?

CARRUTH: That's correct. But, you know, to you in a small town, that's a large number of people, when the main place to work is La-Z- Boy. The main place to shop it Wal-Mart. So, you know, when that area of town has been impacted, it's impacted the whole community.

PHILLIPS: Yes, definitely. That's what we were trying to put into perspective here.


PHILLIPS: OK. And so, at this point, emergency crews are out. Tell me about trying to restore power and trying to treat the injured. Are there still rescue crews on the scene?



CARRUTH: There still are rescue crews on the scene. Our initial power outage report was about 6,800 customers without power. So that's pretty much the whole town of Newton.

PHILLIPS: Amy Carruth, I know you're a busy woman. I'll let you catch your phone.

CARRUTH: OK. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: OK. Thank you, Amy. Spokesman from Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Thank you, Amy.

All right. We do have crews on the way. Our Ed Lavandera is getting closer. We'll try and bring you video from the Newton area so you'll be able to see firsthand the destruction from Newton. If you're just tuning in, we are tracking a tornado, a violent tornado that touched down in Newton, Mississippi. That's just east of Jackson, Mississippi.

Right now, a tornado watch is in effect until 7:00 PM Eastern Time. You are being asked, if you live in the areas that you're seeing on the screen, to take to heart weather reports and follow this tornado as it may be coming closer to your area. We'll bring you as much information as we can, as quickly as we can, as you continue to follow the breaking news here on CNN. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back


PHILLIPS: We're continuing to follow that tornado that touched down in Newton, Mississippi. There have been 40 confirmed injuries. Two individuals in critical condition. We are trying to confirm if, indeed, there have been deaths. We have received reports, but they are not confirmed reports. We're working that and trying to bring that information to you.

If you are just finding out about this, you're looking at a map of the area exactly where the tornado touched down. And now, radar pictures of how that tornado is moving. That storm system is moving through certain areas. If you live within the red box, you're seeing coming across your screen, you do need to be concerned about this tornado that touched down in Newton. You need to be listening to weather reports and taking precautions and preparing for a possible tornado to touch down in your area.

On the phone with us, the mayor of Newton, Hamp Beatty. Mayor, thank you for joining us.


PHILLIPS: Sir, can you tell me what you're doing right now to tend to the injured, and can you confirm if there have been any deaths from this tornado that hit your area?

BEATTY: Cannot confirm any deaths. We just -- our local hospital is attending to the people who've been injured as quickly as possible, and I guess moving those who are injured to another hospital, maybe Meridian or somewhere like that. But we're doing the best we can do.

PHILLIPS: I can just imagine. Has a tornado hit your area before?

BEATTY: We've had tornadoes in the past, you know. Over the last 25, 30 years, there have been three or four. But none any more serious than this.

PHILLIPS: OK. And so tell me about this area where the Wal-Mart is. I guess the Wal-Mart is what got hit pretty hard in your area?

BEATTY: Well, two areas that I've been able to see so far. The downtown area's been hit pretty far. The west part of the downtown area, a super market and a large factory down there, a La-Z-Boy chair plant has been damaged. And a convenience store and fire station in those areas of the west downtown.

And then out in the north part of town, there's a strip shopping center and a Wal-Mart store. And there's been some substantial damage in this area.

PHILLIPS: And so describe to us the area. Are you able to travel through? Are you wanting people to get off the roads?

BEATTY: Well, of course, we'd like folks to get home as quickly as possible and let the emergency people do their job. But we understand that people have got to get from point A to point B. But the electricity and the phones are out right now.

The damage that I can see to the Wal-Mart is on the front of the store. There's a Sonic drive-in near the Wal-Mart that's had some severe damage. It's just pretty much a mess out in this area.

PHILLIPS: And where are you right now?

BEATTY: I'm out near the Wal-Mart store.

PHILLIPS: OK. So you're able to see all the destruction firsthand as we talk?


PHILLIPS: So can you describe -- do you see rescue crews out there? I'm sorry, go ahead.

BEATTY: Yes, rescue crews. You know, of course, the utility company trying to remove the power lines that have been downed. Just, you know -- just general emergency people out here.

PHILLIPS: Now, do you have enough shelters? Are you going to be able to set up shop in certain areas for those, where their homes have been affected, or even people that may not be able to make it back to their homes and have to stay within a certain area tonight?

BEATTY: I'm sure some of the churches will probably be set up as emergency shelter centers for people whose homes have been damaged. And I hope that we'll be able to take care of those who can't go back to their house tonight.

PHILLIPS: Mayor, does it look like the situation is under control?

BEATTY: It does. We have very good emergency response people. Our fire and police and our state police, state troopers and local emergency management people are all coordinating well. And it looks like we're starting to get it under control. We have a lot damage.

PHILLIPS: I can understand. Well can you think of anything that you need immediately right now that you don't have that maybe neighboring areas are watching this and want to help you?

BEATTY: Well, the biggest thing for us is to get our electricity back on and get a lot of our telephones working. But right now, we've just got to continue to assess the situation to see what we're going to need in the next few hours.

PHILLIPS: Mayor of Newton, Hamp Beatty, thank you, sir, for your time. And we'll continue to track the tornado from here and follow this violent tornado that hit Newton, Mississippi. Now to Judy Woodruff and "INSIDE POLITICS."


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