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William Carey sets steps in Mississippi tornado recovery

A Mississippi university heavily damaged by Saturday’s tornado is taking more steps toward recovery.

William Carey University asked its 800 dorm residents to return to campus Wednesday through Friday to retrieve personal belongings and vehicles. Spokeswoman Mia Overton said the college will have counselors and pastors on hand to help students who may be traumatized.

The school is starting online classes for medical students Wednesday. Also, intercollegiate athletes will move into a dorm on the University of Southern Mississippi campus and resume practice. Athletic director DJ Pulley says William Carey is likely to play “home” basketball games at Jones County Junior College or Pearl River Community College.

William Carey said it hopes to publish a list of classes that will conclude its winter term online in the next two days, and tell where students to report for in-person classes. The university still promises to start its spring term on Feb. 20 as scheduled.

The university is still setting up temporary offices, has no phones, and hopes to get the internet reconnected Wednesday. Some buildings have electricity, while others do not. Overton said officials are asking students and others conducting business with the school by email to delay such correspondence if possible.

The school is seeking cash donations for students who will have to replace textbooks, computers and clothing and repair cars. However, William Carey said it will be at least 30 days before volunteers can help repair its campus.

“We will come out of this stronger than ever,” President Tommy King said in a statement.

Hattiesburg’s bus system began running again Wednesday, using buses loaned from the Coast Transit Authority to run fixed routes. The city tells WDAM-TV it hopes paratransit services are fully operational for next week. Buses were damaged by the tornado.

State officials now estimate more than 1,200 homes sustained damage from Saturday’s storms, with more than 500 destroyed or seriously damaged. Though damage was reported in eight counties, more than 90 percent is in the cities of Hattiesburg and Petal and adjoining areas of Forrest County. A tornado ripped a 31-mile path across Lamar, Forrest and Perry counties, killing four. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency counts 60 injuries statewide.

Gov. Phil Bryant officially requested a federal disaster declaration Monday night, asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid to affected residents of Forrest, Lamar, Lauderdale and Perry counties. Individuals could get up to $33,000 apiece in aid under a federal declaration, although Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Lee Smithson has warned that people will need other resources because federal aid isn’t designed to restore a home to pre-storm conditions.

Tuesday, the six members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation asked President Donald Trump to hurry up and approve the aid. Trump is scheduled to speak to Bryant Wednesday afternoon.

“The state, local governments and volunteer organizations have been strained by their immediate response to these disasters as well as continuing recovery operations from previous disasters. We are committed to working together to help these affected communities and our state recover from the significant damage across the Southeast United States caused by this severe storm system,” the lawmakers wrote.

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