William Carey University damaged by early-morning tornado in Hattiesburg, Miss

On its Twitter feed, the city of Hattiesburg reported that firefighters and police were going door to door to rescue tornado victims.

A search and rescue operation is underway in Hattiesburg, a city of about 46,000 people, Mayor Johnny DuPree said before dawn Saturday.

A local fire station and the campus of William Carey University were among the buildings damaged in the tornado. The university also reported extensive flash flooding.

According to the university's official Twitter page, authorities checked all the dormitories to make sure all students were safe.

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Severe weather, including a tornado, slammed several counties in the area, causing extensive damage, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reports.

The three counties affected are Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties. "There is damage to most buildings on campus including cars and a home across campus is damaged".This is a developing story.

USA Today reports that more than 12,000 were without power in the region.

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

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The National Weather Service issued a warning at around 3:45 a.m. that a tornado had touched down in Hattiesburg, located about 91 miles southwest of Jackson.

Spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol Brent Barfield told WDAM-TV that there are "gas leaks everywhere" in the adjoining city of Petal, also hard hit by the tornado.

Interstate 59 north of Hattiesburg was closed because of debris, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.

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