Severe tornadoes that tore across the South over the weekend into early yesterday morning killed more than 30 people and destroyed homes and businesses, further demoralizing a population reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Alabama, people huddled in community shelters to seek shelter while wearing masks to cover their faces against COVID-19.
A twister demolished a Mississippi home save for a concrete room where a couple and their children survived unharmed, but 11 others died in the state.
About 85 miles from Atlanta in the mountains of north Georgia, a couple remained in bed as a suspected twister splintered the rest of the home. Both survived without injuries.
Nine died in South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster said, and coroners said eight people died in Georgia. Tennessee officials said three people were killed in and around Chattanooga, and others died under falling trees or inside collapsed buildings in Arkansas and North Carolina.
With further storms still raging up the Eastern Seaboard, forecasters fanned out to determine how much of the widespread damage was caused by twisters.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said the storms were “as bad or worse than anything we’ve seen in a decade.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said some storm victims already were out of work because of shutdowns caused by COVID-19. “Now they have lost literally everything they own,” he said.
Striking first on Easter across a landscape affected by coronavirus stay-at-home orders, the storm front forced some leaders to make tough decisions about suspending social-distancing rules.
It wasn’t clear whether the combination of destroyed housing and social-distancing requirements would lead to problems for tornado survivors, some of whom said they planned to stay with relatives.
The National Weather Service tallied hundreds of reports of trees down across the region, including many that punctured roofs and downed power lines. Meteorologists, meanwhile, warned the mid-Atlantic states to prepare for potential tornadoes, wind, and hail in the coming days.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, at least 150 homes and commercial buildings suffered damage, and paramedics treated more than a dozen people, Fire Chief Phil Hyman said. None of their injuries appeared to be life-threatening.
In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards said it was “a miracle” that no serious injuries or deaths resulted from the Sunday tornadoes that damaged hundreds of homes around Monroe and in other parts of north Louisiana. But, he lamented that because of coronavirus-related mandates, he felt he had to keep his distance from victims whose properties were devastated.
In North Alabama, where lightning struck Shoal Creek Baptist Church shortly after noon Sunday, catching the tall, white steeple on fire, pastor Mahlon LeCroix said the building would have been full of more than 200 people at the time had the pandemic not forced him to switch to online services.