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Tornado leaves Miss. bride without her church

By Holbrook Mohr and Chris Talbott

Associated Press

MAGEE, Miss. — A tornado left Maegan Errington with more than the usual jitters for a bride-to-be. The twister tore not only through dozens of homes and injured her neighbors, but it also demolished the Mississippi church where she and her fiance planned to have a weekend wedding.

Errington and her fiance, Justin Blair, are now considering holding the Saturday wedding in Corinth Baptist Church’s parking lot — even though they have been offered the use of another Baptist church in the nearby town of Mendenhall.

"I was worried about rain. I wasn’t worried about losing the church," said a tearful Errington, 23, who pulled on cowboy boots and a camouflage cap against the rain Thursday to check on damage near Magee, a small south-central Mississippi town.

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Severe weather across the South unleashed tornadoes in rural Mississippi, including one that shattered dozens of homes and injured more than 20 people, two seriously, authorities said Thursday. The storm injured a total of 28 people across southern and central Mississippi, authorities said.

The Corinth Baptist Church was so shattered that only the doors to its sanctuary were left standing. Members of the 100-year-old church stepped around the red brick rubble and walked through a cemetery where tombstones were knocked to the ground. A white church van was overturned.

"Our church is still here, because our church is the people, but the building is gone," member Charlene Loyd said.

Residents in the tornado-ravaged community took advantage of clearing skies Thursday to collect family keepsakes and begin cleaning up from the storm.

But Magee, a town of about 5,000 in south-central Mississippi’s pine forests, may not have much time to begin serious cleanup as another storm system with the potential for more destruction was expected to be over Mississippi late Thursday or early Friday.

While families were busy moving debris from around homes and covering exposed ceilings, the steady grinding of chain saws echoed through the community as utility crews cleared fallen trees from power lines.

Phillip Runnels spent the afternoon sifting through what was the barely recognizable remains of his mother’s mobile home on Mississippi 28.

His mother, Pamela McCallum, 48, was in good condition after being airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Her boyfriend, Larry Pearson, 58, was also injured and was in fair condition.

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The twister was reported around 1:30 a.m., and swept through Mississippi’s pine-covered hill country as severe thunderstorms rumbled across several Southeast states. Power blackouts affected tens of thousands of Louisiana residents, and authorities reported damage to some Alabama homes as the storm rolled eastward and into Georgia.

There were no reports of fatalities, Magee Mayor Jimmy Clyde said. The most seriously injured were hospitalized, but most others had minor injuries.

Clyde said authorities were attempting to restore power after utility lines toppled on roads littered with tree branches and metal scrap. He said homes in some areas were "basically leveled" and damage was extensive just outside the city limits.

"This is like reliving Hurricane Katrina all over again and that’s no fun," Clyde said.

Jeff Giachelli, 48, said he and his wife, Cappy, were asleep when the storm hit. He called to his wife when the windows of their red-brick home shattered. His roof also had been sheared off.

"We got in the closet and it just collapsed," he said.

In a nearby neighborhood, several brick duplex apartments were smashed and cars were flipped upside down. Nearby, an American flag hung in a mobile home that was ripped apart.

Stephanie Malley, 35, cried as she looked at the shell of her home, its roof gone. She awoke when flying debris hit her in the back. She grabbed her 11- and 13-year-old sons and pulled them into a bathroom.

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"We stayed in the bathroom for a long time until everything started coming down," Malley said.

Her 11-year-old needed nine stitches for a cut on his leg. Nearby houses were marked with red spray paint to show that emergency workers who dug through the rubble didn’t find any injured or dead residents.

Elsewhere, another tornado touched down Wednesday in Mississippi’s Lauderdale County, heavily damaging nine homes and a business, but causing no injuries, officials said. In Baton Rouge, La., the roof over Louisiana State University’s $3.1 million indoor football practice field was damaged overnight by a passing storm. Louisiana crews worked Thursday to restore electricity to thousands after blackouts.

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