Tornado Rips Into Newton

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A tornado smashed into stores jammed with holiday shoppers in Newton Thursday, injuring about 50 people, with at least two critically.

Mayor Hamp Beatty says the tornado destroyed several buildings in the west part of downtown and a lot of people are without power.

Police Chief Harvey Curry said there were no fatalities.

Newton is located in eastern Mississippi, about 60 miles east of Jackson.

Governor Ronnie Musgrove, who went to Newton after learning of the storm, declared a state of emergency and directed the Mississippi National Guard to assist local authorities. Emergency personnel from nearby counties were sent in to help Newton County crews.

Tim Thomas, administrator at Newton Regional Hospital, said his medical staff saw about 50 people immediately after the tornado. He said about half that number had minor injuries or emotional distress.

Beatty says there's damage to a Wal-Mart, the town's La-Z-Boy furniture plant, a fire station and other businesses.

Denise Smith, who told CNN she was inside the Wal-Mart when the storm hit, said the tornado hit the front of the store and collapsed part of the roof.

Evidence of the storm could be seen from heavily traveled Interstate 20, including roofs of buildings. Closer to the damaged areas of town, Christmas decorations and tree branches were scattered across streets.

Police blocked roads leading into heavily damaged areas, including the Wal-Mart and only emergency vehicles were being allowed to pass.