Tornado damages Mississippi State veterinary college

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A spin-off tornado from Hurricane Rita damaged buildings and grounds at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

"It's going to be expensive, and it's going to be bothersome for a while," said Dr. Wayne Groce, chief administrative officer. "Nobody was hurt, thank goodness."

The tornado hit on Sunday, Sept. 25, but Dr. Groce and other volunteers were still on campus answering a help line for Hurricane Katrina.

A horse in a pasture suffered lacerations, possibly from flying debris, though none of the college's other animals sustained injuries. Emergency generators even provided power to aerate tanks in the catfish hatchery.

Most of the damage was to roofs, ceilings, doors, windows, vehicles, and trees. Dr. Groce estimated that roof repairs might cost up to $1 million.

The school has a flat roof with layers of insulation, rubber, and gravel. Metal caps on the parapets help hold the rubber to the roof. The tornado blew off many of the caps, along with covers for exhaust fans and exhaust stacks, and smashed gravel into windows. The result was a lot of leaks and broken glass.

"It'll involve some clean-up," said Dr. Stanley Robertson, coordinator of veterinary extension and informatics. "It won't delay anything. It didn't damage our research animals."

Dr. Robertson said the tornado did destroy a big roll-up door in the equine area and skylights in entryways. Leaking affected the laboratories and clinic, but not the classrooms, so classes resumed by early afternoon of the next day.

Members of a Veterinary Medical Assistance Team assessed the damage while retrieving supplies for hurricane relief in Hattiesburg. Veterinarian Marie Kerl and veterinary technician Anna Ellis of VMAT-3 filed a report with the state. 

"It was lucky that the damage was all things that could be repaired," Dr. Kerl said.

The college's help line for Hurricane Katrina was down only temporarily during the tornado.

"I was up here answering the help line when it hit here�I saw it out the window," Dr. Groce said. He and the other volunteers sought shelter, leaving behind the help line. "We let the voice mail catch it."