President Barack Obama late Wednesday declared a federal disaster for the Hattiesburg area following a powerful, long-tracked EF-4 tornado that left hundreds of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed including the University of Southern Mississippi.
Obama ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in Forrest and Lamar counties, which were severely affected by Sunday's tornado and resulting severe weather.
Governor Phil Bryant praised the quick disaster response.
“Tuesday I requested an Expedited Disaster Declaration from the White House in order to speed recovery to those hit hardest by these tornadoes,” Gov. Bryant said.
“I appreciate their quick response which will ensure we are able to provide critical resources as these residents and communities begin the difficult process of recovery,” Bryant added.
The National Weather Service said the tornado had maximum winds up to 170 mph as it tore a 21-mile-long path, three-quarters of a mile wide across the area.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported that as of Wednesday, they had confirmed more than 800 homes were damaged or destroyed along the tornado's extensive path.
Oak Grove and Hattiesburg high schools both sustained major damage and destruction to their athletic facilities.
Officials estimate it will take tens of millions of dollars to repair damage by the tornado at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The disaster assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover.
Authorities say damage surveys are continuing, and more counties may be included after those are completed.
Five tornadoes were confirmed to have caused damage in six counties in all during Sunday's severe storms including Marion, Lamar, Forrest, Perry, Wayne and Lawrence.