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Pee Dee spared; tornadoes kill nine people in SC, many more in South
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Pee Dee spared; tornadoes kill nine people in SC, many more in South

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FLORENCE, S.C. – A strong storm that killed more than 30 people as it roared across the Southeast spared the Pee Dee of death and destruction.

Some trees fell and blocked roads, and power was out for a while in parts of the region, but heavy rain and strong wind gusts didn’t last long.

Other parts of South Carolina were hit much harder. As of Monday evening, nine people died in the state, nearly matching the death toll of 11 people in Mississippi.

Tornadoes killed six people in four Lowcountry counties, two people in Orangeburg County and one person in Oconee County in Upstate South Carolina.

Darlington County had very little damage, according to Molly Odo, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Damage was mostly confined to widespread trees down and some down utility poles and power outages. In all, Odom said “very little damage was reported.”

She received reports of trees down on the edges of one business and two houses.

Odom said she talked with all of the fire chiefs in the area, and most of the damage they reported was trees across roadways.

“We were definitely blessed,” Odom said.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, there were 39,000 Duke Energy customers without power in South Carolina.

That was down from a high of about 83,000 once a storm passed around 9 a.m.

The 9 a.m. highs for power outages in counties in the Pee Dee region (Duke Energy Progress), followed by the 4 p.m. number:

Chesterfield, 2,900/2,200.

Clarendon, 127/21.

Darlington, 2,800/467.

Dillon , 23/19.

Florence, 607/0.

Lee, 488/120.

Marion, 1,500/2.

Marlboro, 3,000/1,100.

Sumter, 1,900/34.

Williamsburg, 38/0.

Duke Energy crews were completing damage assessment and, where possible, restoring power. This assessment, which can take up to 24 hours, will determine where the company will deploy its workers, equipment and other resources to begin the complex job of power restoration.

“We will restore power to critical infrastructure – such as emergency centers, fire stations, hospitals, water treatment and other public safety and health facilities,” Duke Energy Spokesman Ryan Mosier said in a news release.

“At the same time, the company will safely repair major power transmission lines, damaged substations and other large-scale electrical equipment to restore power to the largest number of customers, as quickly as possible.”

In other regions of South Carolina and other states, storms piled fresh misery atop a pandemic, leaving more than 1 million homes and businesses without power amid floods and mudslides.

In Alabama, people seeking shelter from tornadoes huddled in community shelters, protective masks covering their faces to guard against the new coronavirus. A twister demolished a Mississippi home save for a concrete room where a married couple and their children survived unharmed, but 11 others died in the state.

Approximately 85 miles from Atlanta in the mountains of north Georgia, Emma and Charles “Peewee” Pritchett laid still in their bed praying as a suspected twister splintered the rest of their home.

“I said, ‘If we’re gonna die, I’m going to be beside him,’” the woman said Monday. Both survived without injuries.

Coroners said eight people were killed in Georgia. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said two people were killed in Chattanooga, and others died under falling trees or inside collapsed buildings in Arkansas and North Carolina.

With a handful of tornadoes already confirmed in the South and storms still raging up the Eastern Seaboard, forecasters fanned out to determine how much of the widespread damage was caused by twisters.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said the storms were “as bad or worse than anything we’ve seen in a decade.”

“We are used to tornadoes in Mississippi,” he said. “No one is used to this.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said some storm victims already were out of work because of shutdowns caused by COVID-19.

"Now they have lost literally everything they own,” he said.

Striking first on Easter across a landscape largely emptied by coronavirus stay-at-home orders, the storm front forced some uncomfortable decisions. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey suspended social distancing rules, and some people wearing protective masks huddled closely together in storm shelters.

The storms blew onward through the night, causing flooding and mudslides in mountainous areas, and knocking out electricity for nearly 1.3 million customers in a path from Texas to Maine, according to poweroutages.us.

As much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain fell over the weekend in the Tennessee Valley. The Tennessee Valley Authority said it expected to release water to regulate levels in swollen lakes and rivers in Tennessee and Alabama.

In southeast Mississippi, Andrew Phillips crowded into a closet-sized “safe room” with his wife and two sons hours after watching an online Easter service because the pandemic forced their church to halt regular worship. Then a twister struck, shredding their house, meat-processing business and vehicles in rural Moss, Mississippi. The room, built of sturdy cinder blocks, was the only thing on their property left standing.

“I’m just going to let the insurance handle it and trust in the good Lord,” Phillips said.

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