Gov. Phil Bryant stood on the campus of his alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi, Monday morning and declared that the state would respond to devastation wrought by Sunday’s tornado in typical fashion – with resiliency.
“Unfortunately we have more experience and are better qualified than anyone in the nation to deal with weather-related emergencies,” said Bryant before a media throng at the Thad Cochran Center. “I always enjoy being on the Southern Miss campus, and it’s difficult to see the damage that is here. But these men and women know how to handle this and know exactly what to do.”
On the Southern Miss campus in Hattiesburg, at least six academic buildings suffered certain degrees of damage – including the Ogletree House, which contains the offices of the University’s Alumni Association. The Mannoni Performing Arts Center; the Jazz Station Building; the Fine Arts Building; Marsh Hall and McLemore Hall were also affected.
However, Dr. Joe Paul, vice president for student affairs, acknowledged a silver lining amid the destruction.
“The good news is that we had no injuries,” said Paul. “The great majority of our campus is just fine. We are blessed that most of our students were away for the Mardi Gras holiday. The truth is -- this could have been much, much worse.”
Dr. Rodney Bennett, who just four days earlier was named the next president at Southern Miss, drove from his home in Georgia and arrived just minutes after the news conference began.
“When I saw what happened I told my wife that I had to get to Hattiesburg,” said Bennett, who is wrapping up his duties as vice president of student affairs at the University of Georgia. “This is where I needed to be. I want to let the parents out there know that my goal is to ensure your children are safe on our campus and in Hattiesburg. We will work to restore things as quickly as possible. There is no way to stop us from moving Southern Miss to the top.”
No fatalities were reported from the tornado that cut a 75-mile path through Marion, Lamar and Forrest counties. Bryant noted that more than 13,300 residents lost power in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Area hospitals treated 63 patients with storm-related injuries. More than 200 homes – including mobile homes – and approximately 100 apartments were damaged or destroyed.
Damage estimates have yet to be determined but Bryant cautioned area residents that a state of emergency remained in effect for the area hit hardest by the tornado. A state of emergency also remains in effect for the Southern Miss campus which will remain closed through Tuesday. Classes have been cancelled for Wednesday, but will resume on Thursday.
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