NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Two tornadoes that struck in Arkansas on Friday killed three people and injured at least two dozen and a roof collapsed at a concert venue in Illinois, as a storm system swept through the country’s midsection, from Wisconsin to Texas, officials said.
In Arkansas, the first tornado struck at about 3 p.m. near Little Rock and prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency, killed one person in North Little Rock, the coroner of Pulaski County, Gerone Q. Hobb, confirmed.
Later, in northwestern Illinois, a roof at a theater in Belvidere collapsed while people were inside the building, creating a “mass casualty incident,” dispatchers at the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said by phone on Friday night, without providing more details. Footage posted to social media appeared to show patrons frantically trying to find people beneath the rubble.
One of the bands on the bill, Morbid Angel, said in a Facebook post that the band’s members were still sheltering in place at the venue, the Apollo Theater. The National Weather Service reported “possible tornado damage” in Belvidere, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said on Twitter that his office was “closely monitoring the roof collapse” there.
In addition to Arkansas and Illinois, tornadoes were also reported to the National Weather Service across Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee and Mississippi.
The governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that officials there were on alert for the death toll to rise. “We’re hopeful that it doesn’t but I think given the nature and the volatility of the situation, we’re certainly preparing that it could,” she said at the news conference on Friday night.
Frank Scott Jr., the mayor of Little Rock, said at a news conference on Friday night that more than 30 people had been hospitalized in the city. Many residents, he added, had also been displaced.
In an interview, Mr. Scott said at least 2,100 homes were destroyed by the tornado and that it was too soon to know how much the damage might cost.
“I suspect we’ll be working through the damage for a week, if not longer,” Mr. Scott said.
A second tornado, in Wynne, Ark., about 100 miles east of Little Rock, struck about 6 p.m. and killed two people, the Arkansas emergency manager, Rebekah Magnus, said. No other information was immediately available.
In addition to the tornado emergency for parts of Little Rock, forecasters also declared an emergency for parts of nearby Sherwood and Jacksonville, Ark. More than 100,000 customers in Illinois, and 65,000 in Arkansas were without power as of Friday night, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities across the country.
Baptist Health’s medical centers in Little Rock and North Little Rock were already treating a total of 21 patients — five of whom were in critical condition — Cara Wade, a spokeswoman said early Friday night. The two hospitals were anticipating a surge of additional patients.
Joshua Cook, a spokesman for CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, said the hospital’s emergency department was seeing a “high volume of people with injuries” but he did know the severity.
Leslie Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that at least three trauma patients were taken to the hospital.
In Indian Hills, a middle-class neighborhood in North Little Rock, about a dozen homes appeared to have been damaged, including the home of Mildred Loy, 95, who said she had nearly been crushed when a tree fell through her roof.
Ms. Loy said that her caregiver had scooped her off the sofa and moved her to the hallway, where she climbed on top of Ms. Loy to protect her. “As she laid down, we heard boom,” Ms. Loy said. “It crashed right where I was sitting.”
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in Little Rock had to move to a tornado shelter on Friday afternoon, as it became clear that their office was in the tornado’s path. The Memphis office of the Weather Service planned to issue warnings and monitor the weather on their behalf, said Desiree Meadows, a meteorologist in Memphis. In the aftermath of the tornado, another tornado warning was issued for the Little Rock area.
Stephanie Carruthers, a manager at Trio’s restaurant in Pavilion in the Park shopping center in Little Rock, said about 25 employees and customers safely rode out the storm in the kitchen.
“It blew over so fast,” Ms. Carruthers said. “It started raining real hard, so we all ran into the kitchen. I turned around, and the front doors just blew up.”
Officials from fire departments in the Little Rock area said that search and rescue teams were on the ground, checking homes door-to-door for injured residents.
“At this time it doesn’t seem to be very many,” said Captain Dustin Free, a spokesman for the North Little Rock Fire Department. But, he added, the situation was still very fluid.
Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Md., said that the service had recorded at least a half dozen tornado reports from southeast Iowa into northwest Illinois on Friday.
Footage posted to social media appeared to show a large tornado touching down in Sigourney, a town of about 2,000 people about 70 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Other images from the region appeared to show torn-apart buildings and upturned cars.
Manny Galvez, a resident of Coralville, a city about 20 miles south of Cedar Rapids, said he had hunkered down in his basement just before 5 p.m. “That was terrifying,” Mr. Galvez said in a phone interview, adding that he had emerged about 40 minutes later to find nearby homes torn apart and trucks upturned.
A line of thunderstorms, ranging from strong to severe, extended from Little Rock and Memphis to southwestern Arkansas and into eastern Texas on Friday evening, he said, adding that some of those storms could produce tornadoes.
Damaging wind gusts and very large hail were expected in the region through Friday evening, the Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said. Widespread and damaging thunderstorms are likely, and flash flooding is also possible, forecasters said.
“Keep in mind that these storms will be fast moving today,” said Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center. “So if you find yourself in the path of one, be prepared to take shelter immediately.”
The storms were expected to move east through the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, where they are expected to bring damaging winds and large hail, and may spawn strong tornadoes.
Tornado watches were issued midday Friday, cautioning that conditions were favorable into the early evening for “numerous” strong tornadoes, including a few intense tornadoes, hail as large as 3 inches in diameter and widespread damaging wind gusts of up to 70 m.p.h. Later in the evening, additional tornado watches were posted for parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee until 1 a.m. Central time and areas of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan until 3 a.m. Eastern time.
A steady stream of tornado warnings, which indicate an immediate threat of a tornado, began about 2 p.m. Central time. By late Friday, the Weather Service had issued more than 450 such warnings.
Forecasters had warned the storms could affect an area stretching from Louisiana to Wisconsin, including Little Rock, Memphis, St. Louis, Des Moines, Chicago and other major cities. In a large area of the Mississippi Valley, “at least a few long-track, strong to potentially violent tornadoes” were likely, the Prediction Center said.
The storms could affect parts of Mississippi that were devastated last week by tornadoes that left at least 26 people dead.
President Biden on Friday visited Rolling Fork, the Mississippi community hit hardest by the tornadoes last week. Tornadoes killed 13 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and in surrounding Sharkey County.
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