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Coronavirus US: Tornadoes kill 19, shelters open amid lockdown

At least 19 people have been killed as dangerous thunderstorms and tornadoes rumbled through the Deep South on Easter Sunday into early Monday, forcing states to lift lockdown orders to allow locals to take shelter while practicing social distancing.  

There were over 40 reports of tornadoes as the storm spiraled in a destructive path from Texas and Arkansas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and into the Carolinas, damaging hundreds of homes and leaving 1.3million without power. 

In Mississippi officials said the tornadoes’ threat to the community trumped that of COVID-19, forcing locals to flee their homes for sturdy shelters. 

‘That’s always an issue – we emphasized to everyone that if they went into a shelter they had to maintain hygiene, wash their hands and use sanitizer and use masks but at the end of the day, life safety had to persist over everything else and the greater risk of the tornado overcame COVID,’ Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Greg Michel said to Good Morning America on Monday.

Speaking on the risk of coronavirus in shelters he said, ‘it’s still a concern but we’ve got folks who live in rural areas – shelters were the only option they had.’   

At least 19 people have been killed as dangerous thunderstorms and tornadoes rumbled through the Deep South on Easter Sunday, forcing states to lift lockdown orders to allow locals to take shelter while practicing social distancing. A home that was lifted off the ground in a strong tornado Sunday night and dropped onto a highway in Upson County, Georgia, pictured above 

Shocking aerial footage shows how the fast tornado winds ripped the roofs off homes and forced walls to collapse in Monroe, Louisiana on Sunday

Shocking aerial footage shows how the fast tornado winds ripped the roofs off homes and forced walls to collapse in Monroe, Louisiana on Sunday

Homes were flattened and debris scattered across neighborhoods in the devastating wake of the Monroe, Louisiana tornado

Homes were flattened and debris scattered across neighborhoods in the devastating wake of the Monroe, Louisiana tornado

Many states were forced to lift coronavirus lockdown orders to open up storm shelters for residents, some saying the risk of the storm was greater than the virus itself. Residents of Starkville, Mississippi pictured in a storm shelter practicing social distancing and wearing masks

Many states were forced to lift coronavirus lockdown orders to open up storm shelters for residents, some saying the risk of the storm was greater than the virus itself. Residents of Starkville, Mississippi pictured in a storm shelter practicing social distancing and wearing masks

People were urged to head tornado shelters as the storm approached with people still having to socially distance themselves

People were urged to head tornado shelters as the storm approached with people still having to socially distance themselves 

Jo and James Neely are stunned after living through the extremely destructive tornado that hit the Soso, Mississippi and nearby areas on Easter Sunday afternoon. Initial reporting from the National Storm Prediction Centers says the tornado may have been an EF-4 or 5 in strength

Jo and James Neely are stunned after living through the extremely destructive tornado that hit the Soso, Mississippi and nearby areas on Easter Sunday afternoon. Initial reporting from the National Storm Prediction Centers says the tornado may have been an EF-4 or 5 in strength

A destroyed home in the Cherry Blossom Dr. neighborhood in Monroe, Louisiana pictured above Sunday after a twister razed through the area, downing residences and scattering debris in its wake

A destroyed home in the Cherry Blossom Dr. neighborhood in Monroe, Louisiana pictured above Sunday after a twister razed through the area, downing residences and scattering debris in its wake

'Life safety had to persist over everything else and the greater risk of the tornado overcame COVID,' Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Greg Michel said to GMA Monday morning on the difficult choice to open shelters during the pandemic

‘Life safety had to persist over everything else and the greater risk of the tornado overcame COVID,’ Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Greg Michel said to GMA Monday morning on the difficult choice to open shelters during the pandemic

At least 11 people were killed in Mississippi, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency confirmed – four in Jefferson Davis County, two in Jones, two in Lawrence, and one each in Carroll, Panola and Walthall counties. 

One person was killed in Seneca, South Carolina, located about 35 miles from Greenville when a suspected twister landed about 3.35am, leaving several other people injured.

Early on Monday at least five people were killed in Georgia when storms ripped through a mobile home park near the Tennessee border and one person was killed in the Atlanta area when a tree fell onto a home.

The winds were so powerful in Georgia a twister lifted a home off the ground Sunday night and dropped it onto a highway in Upson County, as per CBS.

One person also died in Jefferson County, Arkansas on Sunday when a tree fell on a home, according to County Emergency Management. 

The storms hit Chattanooga, Tennessee and several counties in northwest Georgia the hardest. 

In Chattanooga at least 14 people were hospitalized and search and rescue teams from at least 10 fire departments went door to door rushing to respond to over 300 emergency calls for help. 

In rural Murray County, Georgia two mobile parks were severely damaged. In addition to the deaths, five others were injured after storms swirled in a five-mile long path of destruction. 

Two of the fatalities in Lawrence County, Mississippi were identified as Robert Ainsworth and his wife Paula. He was a deputy with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and Marine Corps veteran. His wife Paula was a Walthall County Justice Court Deputy Clerk.

The Sheriff's office shared this statement hailing Robert as a 'valuable employee' who will be greatly missed

Two of the fatalities in Lawrence County, Mississippi were identified as Robert Ainsworth and his wife Paula. He was a deputy with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and Marine Corps veteran. His wife Paula was a Walthall County Justice Court Deputy Clerk.

One Twitter user said that they believed the tornado they had pictured was 'up to two miles wide' with the user urging people to take cover

One Twitter user said that they believed the tornado they had pictured was ‘up to two miles wide’ with the user urging people to take cover 

In Alabama twisters destroyed buildings and battered cars, leaving behind only mangled pieces of metal

In Alabama twisters destroyed buildings and battered cars, leaving behind only mangled pieces of metal

Damaged planes and buildings seen at the Monroe Airport in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana on April 12

Damaged planes and buildings seen at the Monroe Airport in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana on April 12

Damaged buildings and vehicles are seen in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana late Sunday

Damaged buildings and vehicles are seen in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana late Sunday

Neighbors and family help to clean a damaged home in Monroe, Louisiana after a tornado ripped through the town just before noon on Sunday, April 12

Neighbors and family help to clean a damaged home in Monroe, Louisiana after a tornado ripped through the town just before noon on Sunday, April 12

Rolanda Robinson calls family and friends from her brother's damaged home in Monroe, Louisiana after the twister struck

Rolanda Robinson calls family and friends from her brother’s damaged home in Monroe, Louisiana after the twister struck

There were over 40 reports of tornadoes as the storm spiraled in a destructive path from Texas and Arkansas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and into the Carolinas, damaging hundreds of homes and leaving 1.3million without power. Damaged building and a truck flipped on its side seen in tornado aftermath in Monroe, Louisiana on Sunday

There were over 40 reports of tornadoes as the storm spiraled in a destructive path from Texas and Arkansas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and into the Carolinas, damaging hundreds of homes and leaving 1.3million without power. Damaged building and a truck flipped on its side seen in tornado aftermath in Monroe, Louisiana on Sunday

Damaged Coca Cola vehicles are seen in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana late Sunday

Damaged Coca Cola vehicles are seen in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana late Sunday

A truck flipped on its side is seen in the aftermath of the devastating tornado that ripped through Monroe on Sunday

A truck flipped on its side is seen in the aftermath of the devastating tornado that ripped through Monroe on Sunday

Downed power lines in the Cherry Blossom Dr. neighborhood in Monroe, Louisiana pictured Sunday after a twister whipped through the area

Downed power lines in the Cherry Blossom Dr. neighborhood in Monroe, Louisiana pictured Sunday after a twister whipped through the area

Officials in Mississippi and Alabama lifted lockdown orders to get their residents into shelters, despite the coronavirus pandemic.  

At a shelter in Starkeville, Mississippi locals were seen practicing social distancing as they anxiously awaited for the storms to pass. Many were seen wearing face masks and standing at least six feet apart from each other, bearing the coronavirus in mind as they waited out the storm together. 

Throughout the state residents seeking shelters were asked to ‘please wear a mask, bandana or scarf’.  

Some storm shelters handed out masks and gloves to locals, but others decided not to open at all. 

In Alabama, the National Weather Service’s Birmingham division shared a post acknowledging the difficult decision locals had to make between protecting themselves from tornadoes or COVID-19. 

‘The decision to seek shelter in a community storm shelter is certainly made more difficult by the consideration for COVID-19, and each individual will need to make an educated decision on where and when to shelter from a tornado,’ the agency wrote in a joint statement with the Alabama Department of Public Health on March 22.  

‘If a [tornado] warning is issued for your area, you are more likely to be affected by the tornado than the virus,’ Alabama officials warned. 

Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey suspended some stay-at-home orders in the state, saying that shelters and community safe rooms needed to stay open while ‘implementing reasonable practices and procedures’ to prevent spreading coronavirus.  

Drone footage from a devastate neighborhood shows just how badly homes were damaged with entire roofs blown apart

Drone footage from a devastate neighborhood shows just how badly homes were damaged with entire roofs blown apart

Very little remains of this home which was blasted to pieces by a tornado that tore through Monroe on Sunday

Very little remains of this home which was blasted to pieces by a tornado that tore through Monroe on Sunday 

A drone is easily able to peer down into individual rooms of a home whose rooftop has been blown clean off

A drone is easily able to peer down into individual rooms of a home whose rooftop has been blown clean off

About 300 homes were damaged or destroyed in Monroe, Louisiana after a tornado swept through the area on Sunday

About 300 homes were damaged or destroyed in Monroe, Louisiana after a tornado swept through the area on Sunday 

A home had its roof torn off after a tornado ripped through Monroe, Louisiana just before noon on Sunday

A home had its roof torn off after a tornado ripped through Monroe, Louisiana just before noon on Sunday

Neighbors inspect a house for occupants in Monroe after an Easter tornado ripped through the town just before noon Sunday

Neighbors inspect a house for occupants in Monroe after an Easter tornado ripped through the town just before noon Sunday

Strong storms pounded parts of the Deep South, including this house and shed in Yazoo County, Mississippi

Strong storms pounded parts of the Deep South, including this house and shed in Yazoo County, Mississippi

Storms will continue through Monday, this time pummeling the East Coast

Storms will continue through Monday, this time pummeling the East Coast

This map shows that severe thunderstorm warnings are in place Monday morning for the East Coast from Florida to Virginia

This map shows that severe thunderstorm warnings are in place Monday morning for the East Coast from Florida to Virginia

However, Mayor Thomas Spraggins of Alexander City, Alabama told his constituents no shelters in his city would open due to the pandemic.

‘I’ll be praying for everyone to have a safe and happy Easter,’ he said in a video message Saturday on Facebook.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency Sunday night.

‘This is not how anyone wants to celebrate Easter Sunday,’ Reeves said.

Two of the fatalities in Lawrence County, Mississippi were identified as Robert Ainsworth and his wife Paula. He was a deputy with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and Marine Corps veteran. His wife Paula was a Walthall County Justice Court Deputy Clerk.

‘Robert left this world a hero, as he shielded Mrs. Paula during the tornado. He was a very valuable employee and will be greatly missed,’ the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The harsh weather will continue Monday with pounding rain and powerful winds in the East Coast, threatening millions. 

The National Weather Service said powerful winds are expected between noon and 7pm and gusts could reach up to 70 miles per hour in Massachusetts.

‘Damaging winds will blow down trees and power lines. Widespread power outages are expected. Travel will be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles,’ the agency said in the high wind warning.

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said state National Guard teams were dispatched Monday to all mobile field hospitals across state to monitor the situation and protect their infrastructure.

 

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