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Storms tear through South amid pandemic; more than 30 dead

CHATSWORTH, Ga. (AP) — Storms that killed more than 30 people in the Southeast, piling fresh misery atop a pandemic, spread across the eastern United States on Monday, leaving more than 1 million homes and businesses without power amid floods and mudslides.

In Alabama, people
seeking shelter from tornadoes huddled in community shelters, protective
masks covering their faces to guard against the new coronavirus. A
twister demolished a Mississippi home save for a concrete room where a married couple and their children survived unharmed, but 11 others died in the state.

85 miles (137 kilometers) from Atlanta in the mountains of north
Georgia, Emma and Charles “Peewee” Pritchett laid still in their bed
praying as a suspected twister splintered the rest of their home.

“I said, ‘If we’re gonna die I’m going to be beside him,’” the woman said Monday. Both survived without injuries.

died in South Carolina, Gov. Gov. Henry McMaster said, and coroners
said eight were killed 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.

a handful of tornadoes already confirmed in the South and storms still
raging up the Eastern Seaboard, forecasters fanned out to determine how
much of the widespread damage was caused by twisters.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said the storms were “as bad or worse than anything we’ve seen in a decade.”

“We are used to tornadoes in Mississippi,” he said. “No one is used to this.”

Georgia Gov. 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.

first on Easter across a landscape largely emptied by coronavirus
stay-at-home orders, the storm front forced some uncomfortable
decisions. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey suspended social distancing rules, and
some people wearing protective masks huddled closely together in storm shelters.

storms blew onward through the night, causing flooding and mudslides in
mountainous areas, and knocking out electricity for nearly 1.3 million
customers in a path from Texas to Maine, according to

much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain fell over the weekend in the
Tennessee Valley. The Tennessee Valley Authority said it expected to
release water to regulate levels in swollen lakes and rivers in
Tennessee and Alabama.

In southeast Mississippi, Andrew Phillips
crowded into a closet-sized “safe room” with his wife and two sons hours
after watching an online Easter service because the pandemic forced
their church to halt regular worship. Then a twister struck, shredding
their house, meat-processing business and vehicles in rural Moss,
Mississippi. The room, built of sturdy cinder blocks, was the only thing
on their property left standing.

“I’m just going to let the insurance handle it and trust in the good Lord,” said Phillips.

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. The storms knocked down trees across

In northwest Georgia, a narrow path of destruction 5
miles (8 kilometers) long hit two mobile home parks. A terrified David
Baggett of Chatsworth survived by cowering with his children in the
bathtub of his mobile home, which was cut in two by a falling tree.

“It got quiet and then the wind started coming in really fast,” said Baggett, 33.

the north 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, Fire Chief Phil Hyman

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.

deaths in Mississippi included a married couple — Lawrence County
Sheriff’s deputy Robert Ainsworth and a Walthall County Justice Court
deputy clerk, Paula Reid Ainsworth, authorities said.

“Robert left this world a hero, as he shielded Mrs. Paula during the tornado,“ said a Facebook message by the sheriff’s office.

Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said it was “a miracle” that no
serious injuries or fatalities 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

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.

“It turned out to be a blessing,” he said.


reported from Birmingham, Alabama. AP photographer Rogelio V. Solis in
Carson, Mississippi; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; Russ
Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina;
Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South
Carolina; and Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, New Jersey, contributed to
this report.