Family turned away from Jacksonville storm shelter Tuesday night due to COVID-19

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JACKSONVILLE, Ark.- As severe weather swept through Arkansas Tuesday night, there were thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings, and a lot of damage caused by strong winds.

Families looking for shelter had a hard time finding it amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.​

“We’ve never seen anything like this weather,” said Shannon Uecker who is new to Jacksonville. “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.”​

Shannon Uecker and her family recently moved to Jacksonville from California.​

She 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 there 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 after the Governor announced no more than ten 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 Bob Johnson, Mayor of Jacksonville.​

Mayor Johnson 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 Mayor Johnson.​

Mayor Johnson said tornados are apart of life in the natural state, unlike the unknowns of COVID-19.​

“I think it would be much safer to fight a virus than a tornado,” said Uecker. ​

Mayor Johnson said Jacksonville’s safe rooms will remain closed until Governor Asa Hutchinson 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.

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