tornadoes batter Arkansas, Illinois; 8 dead and dozens wounded

A monstrous storm system battered the South and Midwest on Friday, producing deadly tornadoes that ripped homes and shopping malls in Arkansas and collapsed the roof of a stage during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.

Authorities said more than two dozen were injured, some seriously, in the Little Rock area. The town of Wayne in northeastern Arkansas was also destroyed. There were four dead people there, the town coroner told CBS News. Officials also said that people were trapped in the rubble of destroyed homes.

Sullivan County, Indiana Director of Emergency Management Jim Birtle told CBS News that there have been three deaths there.

Authorities said the roof of a theater collapsed during a tornado in Belvedere, Illinois, killing one person and injuring 28 people, five of them seriously. The Belvedere Police Department said the collapse occurred when a severe storm swept through the area and calls began coming in from the theater of operations at 7:48 p.m. She said the initial assessment is that a hurricane caused the damage.

The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theater during a heavy metal concert in the city, located about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.

Bad weather in Illinois
Authorities are working at the Apollo Theater after a severe spring storm caused damage and injuries during a concert, late Friday, March 31, 2023, in Belvedere, Illinois.

Matt Marton/AP

Belvedere Fire Department chief Sean Shadel said 260 people were at the scene. He said that first responders also rescued a person from an elevator and had to deal with downed power lines outside the theater.

Belvedere Police Chief Shane Woody described the scene after the collapse as “utter chaos”.

Gabrielle Llewellyn had just entered the stage when part of the roof collapsed.

“I was there within a minute before it went down,” she told WTVO-TV. “The wind, when I was walking into the building, went from zero to one thousand within five seconds.”

Llewellyn, who was not injured, said some people rushed to lift the collapsed part of the roof and pull people out from under the rubble.

“They pulled one of them out from under the rubble and I sat with him and held his hand and I was (telling him) ‘It’s going to be okay’. I didn’t really know much about what I was doing.”

There were more confirmed tornadoes in Iowa, and windswept grass fires raging in Oklahoma, where the storm system threatened a wide swath of the country home to some 85 million people.

Damaging weather came with President Joe Biden He toured in the aftermath of a deadly hurricane that hit Mississippi a week ago and the government promised to help the region recover.

The Little Rock tornado tore through neighborhoods in the western part of town first and tore out a small shopping center that housed a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding towns, where widespread damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles was reported.

Arkansas severe weather
Homs is damaged and trees are downed after a tornado ripped through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

Andrew DeMelo/AP

In the evening, Pulaski County officials announced a confirmed death in North Little Rock but did not immediately give details.

Baptist Health Center-Little Rock officials told KATV in the afternoon that 21 people had arrived there with tornado-related injuries, including five in critical condition.

City Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who announced he was asking the National Guard for help, tweeted in the evening that the property damage was extensive and “we’re still responding.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has activated 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard to help local authorities respond to damage across the state.

In Little Rock, resident Nikki Scott hid in the bathroom after her husband called to say a tornado was on its way. She could hear the sound of shattering glass as the hurricane passed by, and she then walked out to find that her house was among the few on her street that hadn’t been hit by a tree.

“It’s just like everyone says. It got really quiet, and then it got really loud,” Scott said afterwards, as chainsaws blared loudly from sirens in the area.

At Clinton National Airport, passengers and staff were temporarily housed in bathrooms.

“Praying for everyone who has been and continues to be in the path of this storm,” Sanders, who declared a state of emergency, said on Twitter.

Sanders confirmed that about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, the small city of Wayne, Arkansas, saw widespread damage from the hurricane.

Severe Iowa weather
Homes are damaged after a tornado rips through Coralville, Iowa, Friday, March 31, 2023.

Ryan Foley/AP

St. Francis County Coroner Miles G. Kimble told the AP by phone Friday night that he was assisting the Cross County Coroner in Wayne and that two people died there in the tornado.

The number of deaths is likely to rise, the governor said at a news briefing with officials in Little Rock Friday night.

City Councilwoman Lisa Powell Carter told the Associated Press that the town of Wayne was without electricity and the roads were strewn with debris.

“I’m in a panic trying to get home, but we can’t go home,” she said. “Wen was badly destroyed… destroyed houses, trees in the streets.”

Relentless tornadoes continued to spawn and land in the area into the night.

The Covington, Tennessee, police department said on Facebook that the West Tennessee city was made impassable after power lines and trees fell on roads when the storm passed Friday night. Authorities in Tipton County, north of Memphis, said a tornado appeared to hit near the middle school in Covington and at other locations in the rural county.

Tipton County Sheriff Shannon Paisley said on Facebook that homes and buildings were severely damaged.

Tornadoes moved across parts of eastern Iowa, with scattered damage.

One of the tornadoes veered west of Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa. Video from KCRG-TV showed collapsed power poles and roofs tearing apart an apartment building in the Coralville suburb and causing significant damage to homes in Hills City.

Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas have lost power, according to which tracks outages.

In neighboring Oklahoma, winds of up to 60 mph (96 km/h) fueled fast-moving grass fires. People have been urged to evacuate their homes in far northeast Oklahoma City, and troops have closed off parts of Interstate 35.

Aptopix Severe Arkansas Weather
An overturned car in the Kroger parking lot after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

Andrew DeMelo/AP

In Illinois, hail broke windows of cars and buildings in the Roanoke area, northeast of Peoria, said Ben Wagner, chief radar operator for the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency. More than 109,000 customers had lost power in the state as of Friday night.

More outages were reported in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.

Firefighting teams battled several blazes near El Dorado, Kansas, and some residents were told to evacuate, including about 250 elementary school children who were transferred to a high school.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, traffic management software was implemented causing planes to arrive an average of nearly two hours late, WFLD-TV reported.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has forecast unusually large thunderstorms with the potential to bring damaging hail, windstorms and powerful tornadoes that can travel long distances over land.

That’s intense Super thunderstorms “It is expected to become more common, especially in southern states, as temperatures rise around the world.

The Meteorological Service expects another wave of severe storms next Tuesday in the same general area as last week.

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