Hundreds of students volunteer for tornado clean up - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Federal disaster declared, USM damage estimated in millions

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HATTIESBURG, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The Hattiesburg area continues to clean up after an EF-4 tornado destroyed or damaged at least 800 homes Sunday.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced Wednesday afternoon that FEMA has declared Forrest and Lamar counties disaster areas. President Barack Obama signed the declaration Wednesday and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the two counties.

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.

Multiple buildings on the University of Southern Mississippi campus were also damaged. Officials estimate it will take tens of millions of dollars to make repairs.

The College Board voted unanimously Wednesday to allow Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds to sign contracts and take other actions without board approval to help the 16,000-student school recover.

Most of the damage to the school is expected to be covered by a $500 million insurance policy. The policy carries a $100,000 deductible.

Hundreds of students volunteered to help clean up debris on campus Wednesday. Student organizations, including the school's fraternities and sororities, organized the clean up event.  Community members also helped out picking up tree limbs, roofing material and other debris scattered by the twister.

The university's girls soccer team was also seen helping family's clean up in a Hattiesburg neighborhood.

Classes will resume at the university Thursday. The university has asked students to use caution when traveling around campus.

A hotline has been set up for students and parents to call for any kind of assistance. The hotline number is 601-266-5000.

Copyright 2013 MSNewsNow. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.

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