People search for sentimental items after twister

Associated Press
Dot Peek, looks at the damage Sunday's tornado caused her and her daughter's home next door in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. The tornado damaged both her roof and that of her daughter's house. Peek said she recently had the swimming pool refinished and now she has two trees in the pool as result from the strong winds that caused damage throughout the South Mississippi college town. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Brian Bernard has spent hours since Sunday's tornado sifting through the wreckage of his family's house in search of his daughter's flute. It's not worth a lot of money, but it's important to her and that makes it invaluable to him.

Like dozens of families across Mississippi, the 51-year-old Bernard devoted hours Tuesday to rummaging through broken boards and other debris. They try to salvage whatever is left from destroyed homes, though family pictures and other items with sentimental value often mean the most.

"Some people might think I'm crazy, but you know how kids are," Bernard said of his 13-year-old daughter, Brooklee, who plays in the band at Petal Middle School. "She loves that flute."

The search for the flute paid off even before the instrument turned up, when Bernard found the family's kitten under a bed Monday. They had thought the pet had been lost to the storm.

With more than 800 homes destroyed or damaged in several counties, scenes of people rummaging through debris are as familiar as the blue tarps being stretched over battered roofs to keep the rain out.

Cleanup also continues at the University of Southern Mississippi, where six buildings were damaged in the storm. And crews throughout the area are still working to clear roads and repair power lines.

More rain and a slight risk for damaging winds and tornadoes late Tuesday afternoon threatened to complicate those efforts and deliver even more misery.

"There is a small concern of tornadoes across the southern portion of the state. It's not a huge concern like the other day, but it is a concern nonetheless," said Alan Campbell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson. He said there's also the possibility of straight-line winds of 60 miles per hour.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Rent said any storms and strong winds could be dangerous, especially because damaged trees that are still standing could be knocked down.

Rent said emergency crews hustled Tuesday morning to assess damages while there was a break in the rain. Rent said officials already know of more than 800 damaged and destroyed homes and that number is likely to increase. At least 80 people were injured in the storms.

David Dean spent Tuesday rounding up the last of the items he could salvage from his demolished home in Petal.

"It's really just kind of sinking in today. The first time in 54 years of my life I'm homeless," Dean said Tuesday. "But God is going to take care of it."

Dean and his wife were at church when the tornado hit, but his two adult daughters and a future son-in-law were in the house when it was demolished.

"As soon as I got here and found out my daughters were all right, I was happy. I said don't worry about the house," Dean said.

Dean said his family will stay with relatives and friends until they figure out what to do.

"We lost a lot of sentimental stuff, but there ain't nothing we can do about it," he said.

Officials said despite dozens of injuries blamed on the storm, no one died. They said the human toll could have been much worse, but the nature of the storm allowed forecasters to give people ample warning. Furthermore, the University of Southern Mississippi — which was in the tornado's path — was emptier than usual because of Mardi Gras. And some businesses were either closed or quieter than normal because it was a Sunday.

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Associated Press photographer Rogelio Solis in Petal, Miss., contributed to this report.

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