Hattiesburg Salvation Army damaged during Saturday tornado

Crews work the scene on Mississippi Highway 49 after a tornado struck the Hattiesburg area on Jan. 21 2017.         
                                     Katey Ro

Severe storms in southern MS have left at least four people dead and 20 others injured.

The heavy storms hit parts of the southern MS early Saturday as National Weather Service office in Jackson dispatched a damage survey team to the area to probe what was believed to be a tornado that struck Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties, damaging buildings in Hattiesburg and Petal, including a college and a fire station.

Officials warned of downed power lines and debris spread over large areas and urged people to avoid traveling.

More than 40 firefighters from across MS are assembling outside Hattiesburg police headquarters to search for the dead and injured from an early morning tornado. Then it ripped into Forrest County before heading south of downtown Hattiesburg. William Carey University has to find a place to hold classes.

Hattiesburg has taken a lot of damage, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

"Search and rescue teams are being deployed to assist Forest County emergency management in the Hattiesburg area", the agency said in a statement.

Greg Flynn of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said "massive damage" was reported in a three-county area after the tornado hit about 4 a.m.

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William Carey public relations coordinator Mia Overton reported some students were injured. Roofs were blown off several buildings, including administrative offices, a church sanctuary, a homeless shelter, and a Boys and Girls Club for after-school programs.

For students who were in their dorms when the tornado struck, it was terrifying.

Mississippi Power crews are assessing damage and working to restore power in the areas that are safe for them to work.

The tornado was part of a wall of storms that knocked out power to almost 16,000 customers, mostly in Forrest County, where Hattiesburg is the county seat.

Parts of an AT&T store and a loan shop collapsed at a shopping center in Petal, one of the images showed.

Trees and debris cover the ground after a tornado tornado ripped through the Hattiesburg, Miss., area early Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

The severe weather is expected to continue as it moves through the southeastern portion of the state. Warnings of severe thunderstorms accompanied by a risk for damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes have been issued across parts of the southeast throughout Sunday.

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