Tornado tears through Jonesboro, Arkansas

US storms: At least 30 dead and half a million without power in locked-down south

National Weather Service warns of severe storms continuing into the week as the nation grapples with a pandemic

Chris Riotta
New York
@chrisriotta
Monday 13 April 2020 21:43
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At least 30 people have died throughout the southern United States after severe storms and tornadoes ravaged entire communities and left half a million Americans without power amid the global coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

At least eleven people died in Mississippi, and six more were killed in northwest Georgia. Two other bodies were pulled from damaged homes in Arkansas and South Carolina.

Governors in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi meanwhile declared states of emergency as residents grappled with stay-at-home orders caused by the pandemic, while also requiring emergency assistance for their damaged homes.

The storms caused extensive flooding and mudslides overnight in mountainous areas, knocking out electricity for about 750,000 customers in a 10-state swath ranging from Texas to Georgia up to West Virginia, according to Poweroutages.us., which tracks real-time data on power outrages across the country.

In Alabama, where Governor Kay Ivey suspended social distancing rules related to the coronavirus pandemic because of the weather threat, people wearing protective masks huddled closely together in a storm shelter.

A suspected twister lifted a house, mostly intact, and deposited it in the middle of a road in central Georgia. In Louisiana, winds ripped apart a metal plane hangar.

The National Weather Service tallied hundreds of reports of trees down across the region, including many that punctured roofs and downed power lines. Meteorologists warned the mid-Atlantic states to prepare for potential tornadoes, wind and hail on Monday as storms continued to batter down parts of the country.

In Georgia, Murray County Fire Chief Dewayne Bain told WAGA-TV that two mobile home parks were severely damaged, with five people killed and five others hospitalised after a line of narrow line of storms left a five mile long path of destruction. Another person was killed when a tree fell on a home in Cartersville, the station reported.

Mississippi's death toll rose to 11 early Monday, the state's emergency management agency tweeted, promising details later in the morning.

Several apparent tornadoes spun up in South Carolina, where dozens of homes appeared damaged in a line from Seneca to Clemson. Emergency officials were working to open shelters in the North Carolina mountains, where up to 5 inches (13 centimetres) of rain fell in a few hours.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, at least 150 homes and commercial buildings were damaged and more than a dozen people treated, but none of their injuries appeared to be life-threatening, Chattanooga Fire Chief Phil Hyman said Monday morning.

"It's widespread damage that happened extremely fast, " he said. "I advise people to stay in their homes at this point. As far as safety is concerned, we still have active power lines that are down."

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency on Sunday night after he said several tornadoes had struck the state.

Bill Gates warns that a viral outbreak similar to coronavirus could happen every 20 years

"This is not how anyone wants to celebrate Easter," Mr Reeves said on Twitter. "As we reflect on the death and resurrection on this Easter Sunday, we have faith that we will all rise together."

Strong winds late Sunday toppled power lines and blew trees onto several houses in Clarksdale, Mississippi, trapping some people inside, Mayor Chuck Espy said.

"I know these are some tough times and I'm just asking everyone to stay prayed up", Mr Espy said.

Additional reporting by AP

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