Easter tornado threat poses safety dilemma during pandemic

The threat of strong tornadoes and other damaging weather on Easter posed a double-edged safety dilemma for Deep South communities deciding how to protect residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Apr 11, 2020 9:42 PM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The threat of strong tornadoes and other damaging weather on Easter posed a double-edged safety dilemma for Deep South communities deciding how to protect residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

An outbreak of severe thunderstorms was likely Sunday from Louisiana through the Tennessee Valley, the National Weather Service said. More than 4.5 million people live in the area where dangerous weather was most likely, including Birmingham and Jackson, Mississippi, the Storm Prediction Center said on its website.

The National Weather Service office in Jackson told residents to brace for the possibility of long-lasting tornadoes, wind gusts up to 70 mph (113 km) and tennis ball-size hail through Sunday evening. Waves of storms with occasional lulls could continue into early Monday, with as much as 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain possible.

"This could be one of our bigger events we’ve had in a long time around here. Take this seriously,” weather service forecaster Gary Goggins said in a public briefing broadcast on Facebook live from the agency's Birmingham-area office.

Severe thunderstorms began erupting Saturday in Texas as a low pressure system over the Southwest funneled unstable air toward the Southeast.

Seeking protection from violent weather during the coronavirus pandemic could present a challenge for some.

With many churches having ended traditional, indoor services because of the viral outbreak, congregations planned to hold online services or drive-in worship where people sit in vehicles, which are a bad place to be during a tornado. Some churches announced they were moving up Easter drive-in service to Saturday afternoon because of the threat.

Community storm shelters presented another problem.

Although forecasters and the Alabama Department of Public Health advised people to seek protection in public storm shelters if faced with the possibility of twisters, some communities, citing COVID-19, waffled on whether to open shelters on Sunday.

In a video message posted on the town's Facebook page on Friday, Alexander City Mayor Thomas Spraggins said residents of the central Alabama town needed to find a safe place on their own since public buildings wouldn't be open as shelters because of the coronavirus.

“I'll be praying for everyone to have a safe and happy Easter,” he said.

A statement from the city's police department on Saturday said shelters would be opened after all, with temperature checks performed and gloves and masks being provided to anyone entering.

The initial decision against opening shelters was at odds with a message from Gov. Kay Ivey.

"Both the National Weather Service and the State Public Health Department remind Alabamians that the use of shelters and other resources take precedent, should the need arise," Ivey said in a statement Saturday.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency sent a tweet Saturday saying shelters would open. It encouraged residents entering one to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

Strong storms earlier in the week caused damage in the Midwest.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 266598

Reported Deaths: 5852
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17807191
Hinds16967332
Harrison14298204
Rankin11280221
Jackson10976190
Lee9088145
Madison8619169
Jones6782118
Forrest6236124
Lauderdale6128192
Lowndes5564120
Lafayette5229101
Lamar507465
Washington4951125
Bolivar4149109
Oktibbeha409482
Panola388281
Pontotoc378560
Warren3698103
Monroe3693110
Marshall358570
Union357764
Pearl River3508106
Neshoba3499154
Leflore3122109
Lincoln307688
Hancock296362
Sunflower293075
Tate281162
Alcorn273554
Pike271081
Itawamba270063
Scott260849
Yazoo257156
Prentiss254554
Coahoma251555
Copiah250749
Tippah250150
Simpson243872
Leake238467
Marion225973
Grenada224272
Covington222473
Adams215371
Wayne215034
Winston207771
George204839
Newton200046
Attala197464
Tishomingo195661
Chickasaw189644
Jasper182538
Holmes172268
Clay167537
Tallahatchie157535
Stone152925
Clarke148662
Calhoun141822
Smith130726
Yalobusha123835
Walthall115037
Greene114529
Noxubee114126
Montgomery112736
Lawrence107617
Carroll106922
Perry105331
Amite102426
Webster97424
Claiborne89725
Tunica89321
Jefferson Davis88930
Benton86523
Humphreys84824
Kemper81020
Quitman7149
Franklin70717
Choctaw63813
Wilkinson59925
Jefferson57121
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 443009

Reported Deaths: 6662
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson649101007
Mobile31746574
Madison28413217
Tuscaloosa21566275
Montgomery20088332
Shelby19452132
Baldwin17333189
Lee13261107
Morgan12678142
Etowah12141181
Calhoun11555206
Marshall10487123
Houston9031164
Limestone838181
Cullman8296124
Elmore8243110
Lauderdale7946107
DeKalb7900107
St. Clair7876130
Talladega6523112
Walker6050183
Jackson603245
Colbert558194
Blount548586
Autauga540762
Coffee466964
Dale412785
Franklin377550
Russell358415
Chilton346873
Covington340880
Escambia339244
Tallapoosa3163109
Dallas313696
Chambers305470
Clarke303336
Pike265231
Lawrence255855
Marion254661
Winston234742
Bibb222948
Geneva213047
Marengo210531
Pickens200431
Hale186144
Barbour183438
Fayette178829
Butler174860
Cherokee166031
Henry160025
Monroe152621
Randolph146636
Washington142727
Clay130746
Crenshaw124845
Macon122837
Cleburne122125
Lamar120622
Lowndes116836
Wilcox108322
Bullock104628
Perry100518
Conecuh98022
Sumter90627
Greene77923
Coosa64018
Choctaw52124
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