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TEMA: 15 dead after tornadoes strike Tennessee

Volunteers survey the damage as they aid in cleanup efforts in Adamsville. The town was one of the hardest hit areas following the storms. Nine deaths were reported in the area.

TML Communications Specialist

Officials reported 15 Tennesseans were among the 32 people killed by a series of approximately 50 tornadoes that struck across seven states including Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, and Mississippi on the evening of March 31 into early morning April 1.  

Of the 15 deaths, nine were reported in McNairy County, three in Memphis, one in Roane, one in Tipton, and one in Henry counties. The Tennessee Emergency Management Authority (TEMA) reported at least 259 houses damaged from the storms with ongoing damage assessments. Shelters were opened in Covington, Waynesboro, and in the unincorporated community of Readyville on the Rutherford-Cannon County line.  

A home in Brighton after its roof was torn off by the storm. Mayor Stephanie Chapman-Washam expressed thanks to city employees and volunteers who came out to help residents recover from the storm. 

Gov. Bill Lee toured damaged areas of West Tennessee Saturday along with Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Director Patrick Sheehan and state officials. 

“Maria and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life, significant injuries and severe storm damage across Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I thank state and local emergency officials, law enforcement, first responders and road crews for quickly responding to assist impacted communities and prevent further tragedy, and Tennessee stands ready to support local recovery efforts.”   

Lee announced April 5 he is requesting federal emergency assistance for Cannon, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Lewis, Macon, McNairy, Rutherford, Tipton, and Wayne for debris removal and emergency protective measures during the tornado and severe weather response. If awarded, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also provide direct aid to eligible Tennessee residents in the requested counties for disaster-related costs and expenses.

“We are committed to supporting Tennessee’s communities and assisting this response and recovery,” said TEMA Director Patrick Sheehan.  “TEMA, Tennessee’s county emergency managers and our partners are conducting damage assessments and working to support unmet needs of survivors. Those who need assistance should contact their local emergency management agency for additional support. Our prayers are with the Tennesseans who lost loved ones in last night’s storms.”  

The National Weather Service said preliminary reports indicate three EF3 tornadoes touched down in Covington, Adamsville, and Wynne, Ark., on March 31. Another EF2 tornado has been confirmed as touching down in Lewis County as well as three storm cells hitting McNairy County. Other “likely” tornadic events were reported in Wayne, Marshall, Rutherford, Cannon, and Macon counties.  

Some of the worst damage was reported in Adamsville, on the border of Hardin and McNairy counties, with 72 homes damaged. Adamsville City Administrator Cara Hill said the town has been overwhelmed by the amount of help offered to them in the wake of the disaster. 

““Honestly, we’re overwhelmed with all the love and support,” Hill said. “Folks everywhere are rising up and asking what they can do to help.” 

In Brighton, Mayor Stephanie Chapman-Washam also expressed thanks to the city employees and volunteers who had come to the community’s aid.  

“Thank you so much to everyone that came to Brighton today to help us with clean up. We had so many amazing people come out and bring equipment, tools, and more,” she said. “Everyone was just ready to jump in and do whatever was needed and asked. We had some amazing ladies volunteering and got the food ready for volunteers and storm victims. They were there to accept and give out donations. Special thanks to Vice Mayor Melissa Sartain. She has been right there with me since Saturday, checking on our citizens, taking needed food and supplies to them and helping clean up. Also to Brighton County Commissioner David Copeland for working with us all day Saturday cleaning up and Atoka County Commissioner Walker Adams for bringing equipment, having others bring equipment and working with us all day. As always, a huge thank you to our town of Brighton Fire, Police, and Public Works. They all worked all of Friday night into the morning, then was right back at it again Saturday and Sunday. We are so blessed to have all of them.” 

Hundreds of volunteers gather at Cobb Parr Park in Covington to aid in recovery efforts. A nearby barbecue competition in Atoka shifted its focus from festival to feeding volunteers and residents after the storm. 

The Covington Police Department also reported that more than 700 volunteers showed up at the city’s Cobb Parr Park to help with cleanup efforts in Covington and across Tipton County including clearing debris, searching for personal belongings, and providing meals and water to families in need.  

The 10th Annual Atoka BBQ Festival had been scheduled for that night, but when the storms struck, officials with the city and festival decided to reroute participants in the contest to Covington where the teams provided hot meals to those in need and first responders in neighboring Covington. 

“When one is affected by hardship in this County, we are all affected,” Atoka Police Chief Anthony W. Rudolph said. “Thank you to those who could have just made this another festival, but you didn’t. You chose to make a difference though a selfless act and our community sincerely thanks you.”  

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) continues to remove roadway debris in impacted counties.  

“TDOT stands ready to assist Tennesseans as our communities recover from devastating storms, and I am proud of our crews that have worked around the clock to clear roads and help in relief efforts across Tennessee,” said TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley. “We are asking the motoring public to move over, slow down, and Work With Us.”