Governor declares state disaster in Craighead County following tornado and COVID-19 outbreak

by George Jared ([email protected]) 813 views 

Photo courtesy of Jonesboro Police Department.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has declared Jonesboro a state disaster after an EF3 tornado struck the city Saturday (March 28) afternoon. It covered a five-mile swath through Jonesboro and did hundreds of millions of dollars in estimated damage directly striking the city’s main commercial district.

Hutchinson, who toured the city late Sunday afternoon, said the unprecedented combination of a tornado strike and the COVID-19 outbreak has created simultaneous disasters.

“This clearly meets the threshold to declare a state disaster, and I believe it will meet the federal level as well,” Hutchinson said.

The declaration allows the state to ask the federal government for funds, as well as the Disaster Relief Fund, FEMA, or Congress can consider a special supplemental spending bill. Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin estimated the financial damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars but said the cost could have been much higher.

“It appears no lives have been taken,” Perrin said. “That is the good news that we cling to through this devastating event. If I’ve ever witnessed a miracle, this is it.”

With roughly 50% of the damage counted, the Northeast Arkansas chapter of the American Red Cross reported more than 50 private residences destroyed and up to 200 structures received some damage.

Perrin and Craighead County Judge Marvin Day expressed pride in the community response, both inside and beyond county lines.

“Thanks to the generosity of our community and neighbors across the region and beyond, we have had more offer of volunteerism than the city and county can use,” Perrin said. “But we will need it in the weeks and months to come as a long road lies ahead.”

The city also has seen residents show up with debris at the municipal incinerator and Strawfloor pit. Only vegetation debris (tree limbs, etc.) should be taken to the Strawfloor pit. Residential debris should be taken to Legacy Landfill.

All parties practiced social distancing during the news conference and urged the community to not become distracted from the COVID-19 emergency.

“We continue to urge everyone to remain dedicated to social distancing because the coronavirus remains a real and immediate threat,” Perrin said.

Shelters have been set up throughout the city to help those displaced by the storm. The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management asked the Arkansas National Guard to provide cots to Jonesboro after the tornado struck. Arkansas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 875th Engineer Battalion delivered 200 cots to assist.

Crews continued to clean up debris Monday (March 30) morning and return electrical services to the areas impacted by the twister. The Mall at Turtle Creek took a direct hit and officials don’t know if it’s structurally sound anymore.

With dueling disasters impacting students, Arkansas State University canceled classes Monday and students have been told to clear their dorms by April 3 unless some other accommodations have been made. Students will complete the semester using online-only classes. ASU officials have asked students to remain away from campus until the outbreak passes.