Even so, Jennifer McNatt of the NWS’ Southern Bureau described the storm event as typical of springtime severe weather patterns, although she acknowledged assessing it has been different: “Some of our on-the-ground survey teams have been limited to one member because of social distancing requirements.”
Three of those survey teams arrived in Mississippi Monday, verifying that an EF4 tornado with peak intensity of about 170 mph tracked through the state for an estimated 68 miles. At least 2 miles wide, the tornado set a state record, and recovery from it may be notable as well. Pandemic precautions are affecting all fronts.
The Red Cross is responding in Mississippi, but instead of opening shelters, workers are handing out hotel keys. Organization spokesperson Annette Rowland said the group is learning to improvise: “We must ensure the safety of both our workforce and those we serve.” As COVID-19 mandates came down the pike last month, Red Cross leaders at the national level determined to prepare for the South’s spring disaster season by making agreements with hotel and feeding partners. In Mississippi, at least 32 families have sought refuge in one of those hotels, and volunteers are distributing meals to 114 participants three times a day.
Collins, Miss., Fire Chief John Pope spent time Tuesday night making a 120-mile haul for hand sanitizer. Supporters donated two 55-gallon drums of the disinfectant, and Pope planned to bottle it for distribution among first responders and victims: “People may have prepared for the virus before, but when the tornado came through, they lost those resources.”
In Lawrence County, Miss., Sheriff Ryan Everett helped with limited-attendance funeral plans for Deputy Robert Ainsworth, who died along with his wife when a tornado destroyed their mobile home. “When I first heard about our governor’s order to shelter in place, I thought to myself, ‘Boy, we’d be in a bind if we had to bury an officer,’” the first-term sheriff said. “I had no idea I’d be figuring it out. This is the last thing we can ever do for him. We won’t get a redo.”