11 people killed, Mississippi governor declares emergency after Easter storms

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Photo of what appears to be a tornado just west of Yazoo, Mississippi

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency after Sunday’s storms and tornadoes killed 11 people across the state.

One of those deaths was in Panola County, where a 40-year-old woman was killed by a tree that fell across her home.

Reeves said at least 12 tornadoes struck the state.

“This storm was as bad or worse than anything we’ve seen in a decade,” Reeves said. “We are used to tornadoes in Mississippi. No one is used to this. Winds topped 200 MPH. The trail was long and devastating.”

Two people are dead in Lawrence County, Mississippi, according to Monticello Fire Chief Lyle Berard, saying there were reports of two tornadoes in the area.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said “We have downed trees and multiple homes with major damage.”

According to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, 11 people were killed and multiple others injured in the storms. One person was killed in Carroll County, four in Jefferson Davis, two in Jones, two in Lawrence, one in Panola and one in Walthall.

According to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, 11 people were killed and multiple others injured in the storms. One person was killed in Carroll County, four in Jefferson Davis, two in Jones, two in Lawrence, one in Panola and one in Walthall.

In Covington County, Mississippi, every emergency worker available was working Sunday evening to respond to damage from what the National Weather Service described as “a large and destructive tornado,” county Emergency Management Department director Greg Sanford told CNN.

“Where there were houses, they are no longer there,” Sanford said, describing the reports of damage in the tiny community of Mount Horeb.

Sanford says the county have received many calls about people being injured but are not yet sure how serious the injuries are.

There have been an unspecified number of fatalities and “several injuries” in Jones County, Mississippi, due to the storms, according to county Emergency Management Communications Director Ramona Dungan.

Dungan said there was extensive damage around the town of Soso.

Candice Pitts rode out the storm in a small hallway at the Soso Volunteer Fire Station.

“All I had was my arms to put over my son and mother-in-law,” she said. “Was near a solid glass door that blew out and the roof in many places tore off or collapsed. My car was park(ed) under a shed that is now blown over in a yard nearby. It’s mangled.”

Tornado watches issued across the South

As of 9:30 p.m. ET, the weather service has 25 reports of tornadoes across the South on Easter Sunday. More than 95 million people in almost 20 states in the South and East are facing the threat of severe weather on Easter Sunday and Monday, with tornado watches issued across areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

CNN meteorologist Gene Norman said a tornado with winds approaching 200 mph had swept through southern Mississippi Sunday afternoon.

“There was a tornado emergency in effect at the time and this tornado was likely on the ground for nearly 100 miles. The Southeast remains under the threat for more multiple, dangerous and destructive tornadoes into the evening as tornado watches are in effect through midnight and will likely be extended eastward by Monday,” Norman said.

The National Weather Service earlier issued its highest level of tornado alert, a tornado emergency, for parts of Covington and Jefferson Davis counties. The weather service said confidence was high that the area was seeing a “strong to intense” tornado with winds of 115-165 mph.

The mayor of Monroe, a city in north-central Louisiana of about 50,000 people, says hundreds of structures in his community were damaged by a Sunday afternoon twister.

“At least 200-300 houses have been damaged here in the city of Monroe alone,” Mayor Jamie Mayo said. “We also have had damage throughout Ouachita Parish.”

Mayo said there had not been any fatalities reported from the storm, but emergency workers were responding to “minor injuries.” Fire crews were also searching damaged buildings to ensure no one was trapped.

Alfonzo Galvan, a journalism student, recorded video of one Monroe neighborhood with debris in the street and several homes with significant damage. He told CNN his family was safe and didn’t receive any damage. He lives about 1.5 miles away from the area in the video.

“I got there after the tornado went through the area, but it was just a bunch of people surveying the damage to their homes and looking for their friends and loved ones making sure they were OK,” Galvan said.

Sheltering amid coronavirus

There have been more than a dozen tornado reports across eastern Texas, northern Louisiana and southern Mississippi and a tornado early Sunday was confirmed south of Marble Falls, about 50 miles east of Austin, in Texas the weather service said. It appeared to weaken as it moved northward.

The threat from the storms coincided with the dangers from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Officials in Mississippi said most county safe rooms were equipped with hand sanitizer and advised residents to still wear masks in the rooms.

“Social distance as best as possible while inside the safe room,” said Malary White, a spokeswoman with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

From a tornado shelter in Starkville, Mississippi, Craig Ceecee told CNN staff were telling people to practice social distancing.

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.

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.

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