JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (KARK) — Families looking for shelter Tuesday as severe weather swept through Arkansas had a hard time finding it amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday night, there were thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings and a lot of damage from strong winds.
“We’ve never seen anything like this weather,” said Shannon Uecker, who is new to the area. “I woke up to my phone ringing and it was my kids saying, ‘Mom, there’s a tornado in your area, you’ve got to get out of there.'”
Uecker, whose family recently moved to Jacksonville from California, said they’ve never been threatened by a tornado before and knew their mobile home wasn’t the safest place, so they went seeking shelter at the Jacksonville Police Department Safe Room.
“So I thought when we got there, we were all going to go in and be safe, but then I saw all these people sitting in their cars,” said Uecker.
The Uecker family along with others in the area were turned away.
“I said, ‘What do you mean they’re not letting us in?’ I was just flabbergasted,” said Uecker.
Jacksonville Mayor Bob Johnson said that after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced no more than 10 people could gather, he made the call to shut down the safe rooms and all other public buildings.
“It does not make me happy to not open my safe rooms. It makes me sad that I cannot open them because some people really depend on it,” said Johnson.
He said more than 30 people showed up looking for shelter Tuesday night.
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t take that risk as highly contagious and unknown as this COVID-19 is,” said Johnson.
Johnson said tornadoes are a part of life in the state, unlike the unknowns of COVID-19.
“I think it would be much safer to fight a virus than a tornado,” said Uecker.
Johnson said Jacksonville’s safe rooms will remain closed until the governor loosens restrictions.
Until then, he urges everyone to find a safe space in their house with no windows and to cover themselves with a mattress during the next storm, if shelters are still closed.