March 29 (UPI) -- City officials and residents in Jonesboro, Ark., are starting the recovery process after the town took a direct hit from a twister that left buildings flattened in its wake Saturday. At least six minor injuries were caused by the twister, but no confirmed fatalities occurred, Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott said.
Rounds of severe thunderstorms erupted from the southern Plains to the Ohio Valley on Saturday, with the dangerous weather packing damaging winds, hail the size of softballs and destructive tornadoes like the one seen in Jonesboro, which has a population of around 75,000 people in northeastern Arkansas.
Tornado watches were in effect from Illinois to Mississippi, all of which lasted well into the overnight hours.
"The thunderstorm that spawned the devastating tornado in Jonesboro was associated with a strong cold front that swept through the central United States on Saturday. Strong cold fronts are notorious for triggering severe weather, especially in the springtime when the air really starts to heat up," AccuWeather meteorologist Renee Duff said.
The tornado ripped through Race and Caraway streets, destroyed many homes and continued to Brookland and the Arkansas/Missouri border after destroying the Mall at Turtle Creek.
"At 5 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, that place would've been packed, and at this point there was hardly anyone in there," Jonesboro E-911 Director Jeff Presley said.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said things could have been worse if everything wasn't closed due to the coronavirus, including the mall.
"I hate to say it, but with the coronavirus, I think there were not as many people here in the building as it could have been much worse," Perrin said.
"It's a blessing in disguise," Perrin said.
Perrin said he was at home when the tornado struck, but he immediately went to the command center at the Mall at Turtle Creek to help, WITN reported.
"Jonesboro and people from all around northeast Arkansas really rallied fast to give us a hand, and it was inspiring," Jonesboro Fire Chief Kevin Miller said.
Perrin said his office has received calls from area mayors, state agencies and other officials offering help to Jonesboro.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he is paying "close attention" to the reports of tornado damage in Jonesboro. "Just praying all is safe," he said on Twitter.
Hutchinson declared Sunday a special day of prayer in Arkansas.
"It is my hope that we can be unified in prayer thanking God for His love and mercy. We need His wisdom & guidance during this time of emergency," Hutchinson said in a Twitter post.
Jonesboro city communications director Bill Campbell asked residents to stay home and not go outside or sightsee. The National Guard is responding to help secure the area, Campbell said.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin issued a citywide curfew for 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., meaning no one is allowed to be on the roads or out of their homes. Officers are stationed all across town to enforce the curfew all night. However, the curfew does not affect those who have to go to work.
"If you are stopped, tell the officer you are reporting to work," the Facebook post said.
"People left without shelter in the wake of the tornado will face a round of soaking rain on Monday night. While no severe thunderstorms are forecast, the rain can be heavy enough to lead to localized flooding in the area," Duff said.
There are four shelters open, including Journey Church on Highway 49, University Heights Elementary, Fox Meadow Elementary, and Nettleton STEAM. Jonesboro JET busses are circling affected neighborhoods and taking people to shelters, while the veterinarian at Hilltop will take displaced pets.
Any construction company that wants to help, or any people with chainsaws are asked to contact with the Office of Emergency Management.