By Marla Jones, Managing Editor • email@example.com (Photo via Town of Crossville on Facebook)
CROSSVILLE, Ala. — As severe weather rolled into Northeast Alabama on Easter Sunday, many sought shelter at community storm shelters.
Crossville Mayor Tera Fortenberry posted to Facebook on Saturday that the Crossville storm shelter would be open, beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday. She advised to “try to remain calm and keep your distance as much as possible” and that citizens would be entering at their own risk.
Mayor Fortenberry went on to post that “everyone has to wear a mask to be allowed to enter.”
On Sunday, an emergency order issued by Governor Kay Ivey temporarily suspended the state restrictions due to the coronavirus, if those restrictions interfered with people’s safety as severe storms were predicted throughout Alabama.
When DeKalb County was placed under a tornado warning by the National Weather Service, a Crossville family sought shelter at the Town of Crossville storm shelter but were turned away due to not having enough masks for their family.
The family, who requested to remain anonymous, because they did not want any trouble in their town, left in the midst of the storm to find shelter. The woman who was denied entry to the shelter stated that she did not have Facebook and did not know of the mask restrictions.
An EF-2 tornado with winds up to 132 miles per hour struck in Boaz, which is less than 11 miles away from Crossville.
The Dekalb County Emergency Management Agency stated the family should have been allowed to enter but that municipalities make the rules for the shelters, not the county emergency officials.
Overall, more than 30 people were killed in the South as the storms rolled through. The cleanup in Boaz still continues.
UPDATE: A concerned citizen, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, reached out to Southern Torch with the following statement:
“I just thought I would share that I was there in that shelter on Sunday night. I tested positive today for SARS COVID2. I thought I had a sinus infection for two weeks prior. I was wearing an N95 mask in this the shelter but that goes to show that people should be wearing something over their nose and mouth and to just understand how serious this situation in America is.”
Mayor Tera Fortenberry also shared a statement regarding the situation:
First and foremost, the employee was only following the instructions that I had posted on Saturday that explained when the shelter would be open and that some type of face mask (anything that covered the nose and mouth was acceptable) would be required to be worn in order to enter the storm shelter due to the threat of COVID-19. I gave those exact same instructions to the manager of the storm shelter. Please note, this information was made available the day prior to the storms, in hope that everyone would have ample opportunity to secure whatever face masks they needed. It is also important to note that the storm shelters maximum capacity is 110 people. That translates to it being impossible to safely social distance inside the shelter during severe weather.
Second, the individual(s) was not turned away. She was asked if she had a mask. She said no. Then, she turned and walked away, angrily. The shelter manager immediately got a donated face mask from inside the shelter and went out into the storm to try and give her the masks and get the individual(s) inside. He could not find her. The door was never slammed in her face. In fact, the door was not even closed until she was already walking away.
Again, she was never turned away. I, as the mayor of the Town of Crossville, was never asked about the alleged incident until much later. Neither was the shelter manager. Neither were any of the witnesses from the shelter.
Due to donations, we have extra masks for the shelter should a situation like this one arise again. We are thankful for those donations but are prayerful that we will not need them.
Lastly, I am not immune to all of the opinions being tossed around about this situation or my response to it. I have been working to collect all the facts so that I could form the correct and best response to this situation. My conclusion is that my instructions were followed, and she was not turned away. She was angered by a question and she chose to leave without giving the shelter manager the opportunity to provide her with a mask and bring her inside. The importance of the mask can not be understated in this situation. My office has just been made aware that a person in the shelter on Sunday night has tested positive for COVID-19. The person who tested positive did have a face mask on the entire time she was in the shelter.
Southern Torch will continue to report on this developing situation.