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One US town weathered floods, a tornado, and its first Covid-19 death on the same day

When natural disasters strike during a pandemic, the usual emergency response may not be enough.
  • Tim McDonnell
By Tim McDonnell

Climate reporter

Easter weekend was rough for Kevin Smith.

As the mayor of Helena, Arkansas, Smith registered the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic in early March, during a business trip to Washington, DC. On the flight home, he was disturbed by the number of people wearing masks, and decided he would do what he could to flatten the curve in his cotton-farming town of 12,000 on the Mississippi River, two hours east of Little Rock.

He issued an emergency declaration and set up a task force. He started gathering personal protective equipment for first responders and let households and businesses off the hook for some utility bills. He made the highly unpopular decision to cancel a much-anticipated student musical, for which dozens of grandparents were due to come to town.

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