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'We took a pretty hard punch.' Reeves speaks in Soso after air tour of tornado damage

041420 Watch Tate Reeves FB Soso MS
WATCH: Gov. Reeves addresses tornado damage in Soso  

By Ellen Ciurczak, Mississippi Clarion Ledger Published 2:20 p.m. CT April 14, 2020 | Updated 2:22 p.m. CT April 14, 2020

Gov. Tate Reeves made a stop in Soso on Tuesday at a Baptist church that took a hard hit from Sunday's tornadoes.

The church's sanctuary was damaged and its Family Life Center destroyed. Its steeple lay across the street.

But that damage may have been mild compared to what Reeves saw when he took an air tour immediately before his stop, accompanied by U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Rep. Michael Guest.

"I wanna just say to everyone who is here today — thank you," he said. "We took a pretty hard punch on Easter Sunday.

"We lost the lives of some pretty wonderful people in our state, and we lost an awful lot of property."

Twelve people died from the tornadoes that hit South Mississippi Sunday.

From his view in the air, Reeves estimated the tornadoes packed winds up to 200 miles an hour and stayed on the ground for 40-50 miles. 

"When you look at the number of people who have been affected and the number of people who have (sustained) damage — it's absolutely heartbreaking," he said.

The National Weather Service in Jackson estimates one tornado went roughly southwest of Bassfield and had a preliminary rating of EF4 with peak winds of 170 mph. That tornado is the one that also hit Soso in Jones County.

National Weather Service surveyors are still in Jones County determining the strength and path of that tornado there.

The weather service said Lawrence, Jefferson Davis and Marion counties were all hit by the same EF3 tornado. 

The weather service also said an EF2 tornado hit Walthall County with estimated maximum winds of 130 mph and a path length of 6.67 miles. 

"What I know is we may have been knocked down, but we're going to get back up," Reeves said. "We rally around one another. We fight for one another.

"We put our differences aside."

A handful of community members turned out for the Governor's appearance, which was not publicized. He talked to several and thanked the volunteers and service people working at the church.

Rena Register, Baptist Missional Mobilization Coordinator, said volunteers have been cutting trees, removing debris, tarping homes and making 200 lunches and 400 dinners for community members.

She appreciated the Governor's visit.

"I'm pleased that he's wanting to come here and see what's happening," she said.

The Governor noticed most of the volunteers and service workers were wearing masks to protect others from coronavirus. He said the state is now facing the challenge of coronavirus and tornadoes, but he said the state must take care of tornado victims first.

"The first 36 hours is kind of search and rescue — get people help," Reeves said. "But let me be clear — this virus is a real threat.

"Both of these emergencies are complicating the other one, but in the immediate aftermath of a tornado our No. 1 priority has to be helping those who need (it)."

Reeves declared a state of emergency Sunday night after the storms.

Hyde-Smith said the state is facing dual threats.

"Please realize this virus is going on amid this tragedy," she said. "We've got two tragedies.

"Continue to wear masks. Stay safe. Be smart. Say an extra prayer for everybody in this state."

Reeves wrapped up his visit by invoking the power of God to know all things.

"Better days are ahead — that we know for sure," he said. "While we don't know what the future holds, we know who holds the future."