Tornado Death Confirmed in Columbus, MS

Feb 24, 2019

Storm debris after a tornado hit a residential neighborhood in Columbus, Miss.
Credit Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Weekend storms raked parts of the Southeast, leaving deaths and injuries in their wake as a tornado smashed into a commercial district in a small Mississippi city and drenching rains fed a rising flood threat.

A woman was killed when a tornado hit Columbus, Mississippi, according to officials.

Columbus Mayor Robert Smith Sr. said 41-year-old Ashley Glynell Pounds of Tupelo and her husband were renovating a house Saturday evening, and when the husband went to get them something to eat, the building collapsed and killed her.

Smith said 12 other people were injured, but the injuries did not appear to be major. City spokesman Joe Dillon said the tornado also seriously damaged a school and two community center buildings.

The tornado Saturday afternoon in Columbus was confirmed on radar, said meteorologist Anna Wolverton with the National Weather Service in Jackson. She told The Associated Press that experts would be headed Sunday to the east Mississippi city of about 23,000 people to gauge the tornado's intensity.

At First Pentecostal Church in Columbus, the Rev. Steve Blaylock said the building was "a total loss," with a wall pushed in, holes in the roof and substantial water damage. He and his congregants tried to salvage what they could on the morning after the storm. But he said they still held a Sunday prayer service and even went ahead with a scheduled baptism, using a borrowed portable baptismal pool.

"We will rebuild. We've got a good church here," Blaylock said. "It'll be a testimony of God."

Residents of one street on the east side of Columbus were out early Sunday morning with chainsaws, clearing away branches of the many trees that had snapped or were uprooted in the storm. Metal siding and roofing materials were scattered throughout the neighborhood of older homes. While the houses generally remained standing, sheds and outbuildings were mostly demolished.

Lee Lawrence, who said he has been selling used cars for decades in Columbus, told The AP that four buildings on his car lot were destroyed. He said trees toppled across vehicles and car windows were blown out.

Lawrence said he was at home getting ready to take a bath when the storm struck.

"The wind all of a sudden just got so strong and it was raining so much you could hardly see out the door, and I could hear a roaring. Evidently it came close," he said, speaking with AP in a phone interview.

"It will be a start-over deal," Lawrence said. "I can't say it will come back better or stronger, but we'll come back."

A photographer working for The AP in Columbus said some antique cars on Lawrence's lot were parked among the damage and a nearby pet grooming business appeared now to be mostly twisted piles of metal. A printing shop had been speared by a pipe with great force and what seemed to be a vacant commercial building nearby appeared heavily damaged.

Firefighters and law enforcement officers cordoned off the area, and power was out in the area.

In Alabama, the main issue has been and will continue to be flooding, as heavy rains swell rivers beyond their banks.

As of 9 a.m. Sunday, the Tennessee River at Florence was at 29 feet. That's 11 feet over flood stage. The river is expected to continue to rise to nearly 29.6 feet by Monday morning, raising the possibility for more flooding in the area, according to the National Weather Service. At 30 feet, widespread flooding of industries near the river could occur.

The Tennessee Valley Authority says current conditions in Florence are at historic levels.

A flood warning is in place for the Tennessee River in Colbert and Lauderdale Counties. Flood warnings are also in place for western Madison, Lauderdale, Limestone, Franklin and Lawrence counties, as well as northern Morgan County. Parts of Cullman, Jefferson, Cleburne, Calhoun, Tuscaloosa, Greene, Hale, Pickens, and Perry Counties are also under flood warnings.