The havoc and heartache caused by a line of storms that spanned 1,200 miles from Texas to the Carolinas was made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
The storms left at least 31 dead and destroyed hundreds of buildings in Monroe, Louisiana, alone.
There, Mayor Jamie Mayo asked hotels to provide rooms for those made homeless by the storms, since the virus outbreak has made opening an emergency shelter potentially dangerous.
Hotlines have been established to find housing for those who don’t have a safe place to stay.
In Chattanooga, about 50 residents at the assisted living home had to be evacuated by bus to a nearby hotel after the facility’s roof was heavily damaged in the storm, Amy Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Office of Emergency Management, told CNN.
First responders, in some areas already taxed by the pandemic, were inundated with calls. The Hamilton 911 center had more than 1,300 calls, with 500 calls related to collapsed structures, Maxwell said.
The pandemic has thinned the ranks of volunteers at the Salvation Army, said Jeff Jellets, the organization’s Southern Territory Disaster Coordinator, since many of its volunteers are retired, and being older, are more at risk to the virus.
“We had to look at our typical cadre of workers and shrink it” to keep everyone safe Jellets said.
Providing food to disaster victims has also become a challenge, Jellets said, as a lot of stockpiles have been depleted, stores are no longer open around the clock, and shelves aren’t always stocked with what’s needed because of pandemic buying and supply problems.
‘The new normal’
The Salvation Army now is working to build relationships with restaurants to prepare food that the nonprofit can distribute.
“As we move forward, I think that will become our new normal,” Jellets said.
This is the third disaster the charity has responded to during the epidemic, following tornadoes in Arkansas and Tennessee recently.
“It’s almost becoming the new normal for us,” Jellets said.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey directed communities to keep shelters open, despite the state’s stay-at-home order.
“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,” Ivey said.
Some Alabama cities said before the storms that they would open only “hardened shelters,” not community centers or churches, out of concern about the pandemic, CNN affiliate WBRC reported.
Emerging from the rubble
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s asking FEMA to allow assessments to be done with photographs to reduce possible exposure to the coronavirus.
For some tornado victims, though, the virus was far from the forefront of their thoughts.
In Chatsworth, Georgia, where a tornado struck around 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, one couple and their two children hid under a mattress as the twister struck. When they emerged afterward, their trailer and the one next to it was totally destroyed. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
On Monday, family and friends helped them sort through the rubble. They hugged and consoled one another. No one was wearing a mask.
“I don’t think anyone’s thinking about the virus right now,” said Kaila Shoemaker, whose brother-in-law’s trailer was decimated. They’re just trying to get their belongings – and lives – back together.
CNN’s Martin Savidge and Tina Burnside.