A bronze statue still stands despite the destruction surrounding it at the Mall at Turtle Creek Mall in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The tornado, rated an EF3 by the National Weather Service, carved a path of destruction through the city center. Although 22 injuries were reported, none were life-threatining and no fatalities have been reported. Photo by Jonesboro Police Department.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

On Saturday, March 28, a powerful storm whipped through the Northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro, producing a large tornado that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses and injured 22 people.

Relief efforts are now underway to help the more than 200 buildings that were damaged by the tornado, which was rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service office in Memphis with maximum winds of 140 mph.

According to local media reports, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage were caused by the tornado, which made its way through major city streets in the middle of town and through several residential areas north of the city center.

Remarkably, in part due to the current COVID-19 social distancing efforts in place throughout the U.S., no fatalities were reported from the tornado.

Despite the destruction caused to several businesses usually packed with people, including the Mall at Turtle Creek and surrounding restaurants, many buildings were empty when the storm hit Saturday evening.

United Methodist Churches in the city also received minimal damage, although several church members’ homes were impacted.

The Rev. John Miles, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, said that more than 100 church members were out on Sunday morning assisting in clean-up efforts, and more would be sent out in the coming days.

“While I am grieved by the disaster I am amazed that no one was killed. The damage to many houses was enormous,” Miles said. “I feel relief that no one was killed, sadness for the people who have lost their homes, and gratitude for the many people who have flooded these neighborhoods to help.”

Janice Mann, disaster response co-coordinator for the Arkansas Conference, said that at this time, access to the city is still very limited, although their team was allowed to enter on Monday and bring donations for relief efforts.

“Right now, it looks like 20% residential damage, 80% businesses, but we don’t have official numbers yet,” Mann said. “I want to say thank you to St. Paul UMC for allowing us to use their facilities for our relief efforts and First UMC for housing our volunteers.”

At Cornerstone UMC, the Rev. Kathleen McMurray said her church has been hard at work sewing face masks to protect against the coronavirus since before the tornado hit, but after Saturday they have worked to hand out the masks to disaster response workers.

McMurray said that it’s been difficult to balance the need to help the community recover from this disaster while still remembering that physical distancing rules related to the coronavirus still have to be followed.

“It is really difficult to process such loss in the midst of the rising global pandemic of COVID-19. We want to help but we also want to help safely, and so we are doing our best to listen to the needs and procedures from our Disaster Response leaders in the community,” McMurray said.

Victor Moran, a member of First UMC Jonesboro whose home was damaged in the tornado, said the support he and his family have received from the church has made a huge impact on how he’s processing this challenging time.

“The team from First Church showed up at our house this morning like a conquering army. They completed in less than an hour what would have taken me days. Then they spread out through the neighborhood serving with grace, timeliness, and excellence.

“Please convey to the whole church Teresa’s and my deep, deep gratitude for what you all have done,” Moran said.

McMurray said that despite the tragedy of the past weekend, there is still hope that can be found in all of it.

“One of the biggest things we as people of faith can do is to offer hope. COVID-19 brings with it so much fear and anxiety already. Experiencing a disaster of this magnitude on top of it can be overwhelming. Being able to share the gospel of resurrection, in word and deed, in the midst of this is powerful for our community.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of disaster for Jonesboro on Sunday, allowing the city and state to potentially receive federal money for disaster relief as well.

The Arkansas Conference has also set up a donation hub for disaster relief in Jonesboro and the surrounding community. To donate to tornado relief efforts, visit our online donation website and select Jonesboro Disaster Relief.