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Destructive and deadly storms

U.S. BRIEFS | Arkansas and other states take vicious hits from a series of tornadoes

Benjamin Krain/Getty Images

Destructive and deadly storms
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Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and World Atlas


Trees, roofs, and power lines fell to the ground in Little Rock, Ark., on March 31 as tornadoes plowed through the city and the surrounding areas. One person died in North Little Rock, and the storm also killed four people in nearby Wynne. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to assist with recovery efforts. The storm was part of a sprawling, tornado-spawning system that killed at least 32 people, pounded houses and businesses, and turned out the lights in communities across multiple states. Experts said the storm spun out as many as five or six dozen twisters, and the trail of damage stretched from Arkansas through Tennessee, Indiana, and Illinois. A week earlier, another deadly storm system tore through Mississippi, killing 21 people there and one in Arkansas. That storm destroyed about 300 homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and Silver City. And on April 5, a destructive tornado struck southeastern Missouri, killing multiple people. —Josh Schumacher

South Carolina

The president of Greenville-based Bob Jones University announced his resignation March 30 amid a dispute with the school’s board chairman. President Steve Pettit had given an ultimatum to the board of trustees—remove chairman John Lewis or he would resign—after detailing his frustrations in a four-page memo. Pettit claimed Lewis conducted business in secret and was hostile toward university administration, among other complaints. Pettit has since 2014 led the small Christian school founded by evangelist Bob Jones Sr., and he is the first president not to be a Jones. Lewis released a statement saying the board regretfully accepted the president’s resignation but did not address Pettit’s criticism. Pettit will depart in May. —Todd Vician


The City Council of Somerville on March 23 enacted an ordinance protecting individuals in polyamorous relationships from workplace and police discrimination. In 2020, the city became the first in the country to recognize polyamorous relationships as legitimate “domestic partnerships.” Romantic partnerships of three or more in the city will now share many of the same rights as traditionally married couples. Somerville’s new nondiscrimination policy also includes “consensual non-monogamy,” referring to two people committed to each other who are also intimate with others. At least three groups of three partners had registered as “domestic partners” in the city as of last year, according to The Boston Globe. —Juliana Chan Erikson

Xavier Mascareñas/The Sacramento Bee via AP


Gov. Gavin Newsom last month approved a first-in-the-nation law allowing state regulators to penalize oil companies for making too much profit. “We proved we can actually beat Big Oil,” Newsom said at the March 28 ceremony where he signed the measure into law. For months, the Democratic governor has promised to crack down on the oil industry amid record-level gas prices in the state. The new law is the latest measure aimed at California’s oil industry: Last year, state regulators prohibited sales of most gas-powered vehicles by 2035, and lawmakers have also restricted where oil drilling can take place, establishing buffer zones around sensitive areas such as homes and schools. The state’s oil production has steadily dropped since the 1980s, making California currently the seventh-largest oil producer in the United States. Opponents of the new law, including legislators from oil-producing parts of the state, say more regulatory oversight will have unintended consequences and costs for Californians. —Mary Jackson

Ted Shaffrey/AP


The new board chosen to oversee the special governing district that includes Walt Disney World voted on March 29 to hire legal counsel to challenge agreements that could strip the board of its power. Gov. Ron DeSantis in February signed a bill to transfer control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District from the Disney corporation to a state-selected board. The bill also changed the area’s name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. But days before Florida lawmakers approved the legislation, the previous board on Feb. 8 quietly approved several agreements giving Disney control over the district for the next 30 years. The agreements require the new board to obtain approval from Disney before taking certain actions and limits the board’s power to managing infrastructure and utilities. DeSantis’ office claims the contracts could be invalid. Disney says the agreements are legal. —Lauren Canterberry


An ongoing, nonpartisan election review of voters in Dane County shows that a system meant to protect against ballot fraud isn’t working. According to a March report from Wisconsin Watch, the county clerk found officials counted votes for 95 individuals whom the courts had deemed too mentally incapacitated to vote. Some had voted in multiple elections. The ineligible ­voters somehow cast ballots in counties where they should have appeared on the ineligible list. Others never had their voting rights restored after courts reinstated them. The mistakes originated from human error, lack of legally defined tracking methods, and discrepancies in how to notify local election officials. The Wisconsin Elections Commission is now reviewing all 22,733 state entries of those judged incompetent. The problems intensify pressures for a legislative fix and for the commission to investigate voting at nursing homes. Wisconsin is one of 34 states allowing courts to revoke voting rights for mental incompetence. —Sharon Dierberger


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