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Soggy clean-up after tornado injures 63 in Mississippi

By Emily Le Coz

TUPELO, Mississippi (Reuters) - Authorities were cleaning up and assessing the damage on Monday after a number of tornadoes and severe weather tore through nine Mississippi counties, injuring dozens of people as homes and other buildings were torn apart.

Governor Phil Bryant said at least 63 people were injured and about 200 homes damaged or destroyed by the twisters, which cut a 75-mile path of destruction across the south-central portion of the state.

There were no reported deaths, but two people were critically injured when a tornado, believed to be at least a mile wide touched down in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, shortly before sunset on Sunday.

Preliminary data from the National Weather Service said the Hattiesburg tornado was an EF-3, packing destructive winds of up to 145 miles per hour.

Severely damaged buildings included the modern, multi-story Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, which flattened a pickup truck when debris flew off the building, and parts of the University of Southern Mississippi, Emergency Management spokesman Greg Flynn said.

He said most students at the university were off campus for the Mardi Gras holiday when the twister damaged several buildings there, including a performing arts center and an alumni house.

Bryant declared a state of emergency in counties hit by the severe weather and power outages continued across a widespread area as a steady rain fell on Monday.

"The bad thing is, it keeps raining," said Flynn. "It's supposed to rain all day today and then all day tomorrow.

"We've already had flash-flooding issues and the creeks and the streams are all overtopped. It's just going to make things a lot more difficult in the recovery process."

(Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Andre Grenon)

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