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A spate of tornadoes devastated communities in several Gulf Coast states over the weekend, leaving at least 19 people dead.
At least 29 tornadoes spanning six states were reported from Jan. 21 to 23, with 15 fatalities confirmed in three Georgia counties and four deaths reported in Mississippi. On Sunday, Direct Relief reached out to nearly 300 health care partners in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, making disaster relief inventory available to storm victims. Community health organizations in Georgia, Florida and Mississippi responded, and shipments to impacted communities went out Monday and have continued since.
One health facility responding to people recovering from the storms is the Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative. The group, based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, watched as 140-mph winds tore a ragged 25-mile path across the area on Saturday morning.
“It has been an overwhelming morning,” Pati Landrum, who works as the organization’s director of compliance, said on Monday. The group has 17 healthcare facilities in the area, which serve 36,000 patients, almost a third of which are uninsured. As her team strategized how to help people reeling from the storms, they learned that two of their own staff members had lost their homes. The tornado also decimated nearby William Carey University, where thousands of students were displaced after much of the campus was damaged.
The Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative has requested over 300 hygiene kits, along with four emergency response backpacks, which include first aid and disaster relief supplies. Insulin was also included in the request, along with 500 doses of Tdap vaccine, which is used to immunize against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. The shipment will also help patients manage chronic conditions like diabetes. Diabetes medications are often lost during power outages because they must be refrigerated. Also, people often leave their medication behind when they evacuate their homes during a disaster.
The group also reported that they’ve opened a hurricane prep pack that Direct Relief prepositioned for such a situation. Each pack contains enough medicines and supplies to treat 100 patients for three to five days after a storm hits. The packs are prepositioned in coastal areas with a history of hurricane impacts, but can also be used in any natural disaster.
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 16 counties in the southern half of the state. Direct Relief has been in communication with the Albany Area Community Health Care Center and stands ready to assist any facilities that make a request.
As tornadoes swept through the eastern United States, storms also pounded the West Coast, and California has seen significant rainfall and flash flooding as a result. In early January, Direct Relief reached out to all health care partners north of, and including, San Luis Obispo. No requests have been made for aid at this time, but Direct Relief stands ready to assist should that change.
Direct Relief has a long track record of responding to weather-related emergencies across the U.S. The organization supported more than 100 Gulf Coast health care partners as they worked to recover from devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has also been active in responding to tornadoes that the region experiences often, including the tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma, in May 2013.
A swarm of tornadoes tore through eight southern states in late January 2017. Only one other January outbreak since 1950 spawned more tornadoes. Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Albany, Georgia, were particularly hard hit. The Jan. 21-23, 2017 tornado outbreak was one of the largest outbreaks on record not only for January, but for any winter month, according to data from the National Weather Service.
‘Absolutely devastating’: Storms leave 14 dead in Georgia
At least 14 people were dead and 23 others were injured after a string of tornadoes and thunderstorms barreled across Georgia over the weekend. On Sunday night, residents in Florida were preparing for the storm to sweep south: The National Weather Service predicted powerful wind and rain and possibly tornadoes across the central and southern half of the state.