Severe storms that left at least eight people dead and parts of the South reeling from tornadoes that destroyed hundreds of structures are now moving north, with more than 39 million people under the threat of severe weather.
Mississippi was among the state’s hardest hit by Sunday’s storms. Seven people were confirmed to have died as a result of severe weather in the state, with at least 10 counties reporting damage, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said.
Emergency officials advised residents that sheltering for safety from the storms took priority over the social distancing guidelines in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency tweeted a photo saying their experts were monitoring the weather. The tweet also emphasized that people should have a safe place to go — and if that’s a public shelter, to continue practicing social distancing.
“If you go to a public shelter please wear a mask, bandana, or scarf around your nose and mouth,” the tweet said.
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency over the “devastating damage.”
The damage done
At least 34 tornadoes were reported to have hit Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia as of early Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
The storms left more than 450,000 customers in those states without power early Monday morning, according to poweroutages.us.
The storm system brought severe weather first to Texas on Saturday and moved east, bringing forecasts of tornadoes, strong winds and hail the size of tennis balls or larger for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
“This is not how anyone wants to celebrate Easter Sunday,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement. “The state and our first responders are working around the clock and will not rest until this is over. We are mobilizing all resources available to protect our people and their property.”
At least 200 to 300 structures were damaged in the city of Monroe, a city in north-central Louisiana of about 50,000 people, Mayor Jamie Mayo said. The city has not had reported fatalities, but emergency workers were responding to “minor injuries.”
More to come
The system is expected to focus on the East Coast on Monday, bringing a continued threat of tornadoes, straight-line winds and hail.
More than 150 million people are under a wind advisory or warning Monday, according to CNN meterologist Michael Guy.
“The line of storms that produced the deadly tornadoes in Mississippi are moving through Georgia and over the Appalachians (Monday) morning,” Guy said. “Wind gusts from Georgia up through New England today could be upwards of 50 mph with some areas in the North East getting gusts in excess of 70 mph.”
The worst of the wind gusts — or even a possible tornado — could occur in southeast Georgia up into northern Virginia, just south of metro Washington DC, Guy said.
New Yorkers told to remain at home during severe weather
Strong winds and heavy rain are expected to reach New York, the state hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents the best protection from the weather is to continue to practice social distancing.
“We have strong winds and heavy rain coming our way on Monday, New York City, so it’s really simple: if you do not need to be outside tomorrow then STAY HOME,” de Blasio said on Twitter.
But in the South, people already displaced by the damage are looking for shelter.
Monroe Mayor Mayo said he had asked local hotels to provide rooms to people made homeless by the storms as coronavirus made opening a shelter potentially dangerous.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency ahead of Sunday night’s expected severe weather, suspending coronavirus orders where life could be endangered.
“Shelters and community safe rooms should remain open and accessible to all individuals seeking refuge from this severe weather, while implementing reasonable practices and procedures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among those seeking shelter,” she said.
Officials in Mississippi said most county safe rooms were equipped with hand sanitizer and advised residents to still wear masks in the rooms.