JONESBORO, Ark. (WMC) - The National Weather Service has confirmed an EF-3 tornado ripped through Jonesboro, Arkansas with winds up to 140 mph leaving 22 people injured and two people hospitalized.
According to our sister station KAIT, the tornado was on the ground for 10-20 miles leaving a path of destruction, including destroying the Mall at Turtle Creek.
James Benton drove from his home on the outskirts of town to see the damage he calls devastating
“I was never in any danger but I’ve got friends that live close to the mall. So I was worried about them. They were alright,” said Benton.
Stores like Best Buy and Barnes & Noble are hardly recognizable at the Mall at Turtle Creek. First responders set up a command center at the mall Saturday night to assess the damage. They have since completed search and rescue efforts.
Jonesboro Mayor Harrold Perrin says things could’ve been a lot worse if many people weren’t already staying home to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Now he is concerned about more mall employees losing their jobs in addition to the people out of the job because of coronavirus
“I had a lot of people unemployed because of restaurants and things of that nature we closed,” said Perrin. “Now you can see the number of employees that’s going to be unemployed now, which is just going to add to that. What we’ve got to do at the city is make sure that we get these people to the right place, to start getting unemployment to start getting the checks back into these people.”
NWS also says an EF-1 tornado hit Greene County Saturday night as well.
Officials ask that individuals stay at home during this time and avoid going to sightsee the damage.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says he is seeking a federal declaration of disaster after touring the damage left behind. He says the businesses that were damaged are also eligible for COVID-19 unemployment.
During a press conference Sunday, Hutchinson stressed that Arkansas is now going through two disasters at this time, but he is sure the state will recover.
“This is an amazing time in Arkansas because we’ve been hit with two disasters now,” said Hutchinson. “And we have to be mindful here in Jonesboro that we’re dealing with a tornado disaster and recovery but at the same time we can’t forget that we’re going through a virus disaster, COVID-19 as well. Because that has to guide you in your clean up efforts. just as it guides us in this news conference.”
Hutchinson though these gatherings will be geared towards recovery and socially focused, the same social distancing guidelines will have to apply.
Officials project damages will cost “several hundred million dollars.”
Jonesboro will be under a new curfew from 9 p.m. Sunday into 6 a.m. Monday morning. Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott said if you are caught out during those times, you will be pulled over. Anyone going to and from work may be stopped but will be OK to continue traveling.