21 dead, dozens injured in 6 states after Arkansas tornado outbreak, devastating storms across US

A "catastrophic" tornado moved through Little Rock, Arkansas Friday afternoon

ByAya Elamroussi and Jay Croft, CNN, CNNWire
Saturday, April 1, 2023
21 dead, dozens of injuries across 6 states after devastating storms
At least 21 people are dead and dozens hospitalized after a series of brutal tornadoes and storms tore through multiple states in the South and Midwest Friday.

Four people died in structural collapses in Illinois during Friday's severe weather outbreak, bringing the total number of fatalities to 21, after devastating storms and tornadoes scraped the South and Midwest Friday into early Saturday.

Seven weather-related deaths were also earlier confirmed in McNairy County, Tennessee, as the threat of more severe weather loomed into Saturday afternoon.

More than 50 preliminary tornado reports were recorded Friday in at least seven states, including in Arkansas, where storms killed five people -- four in the small city of Wynne and another person in North Little Rock, local officials said.

Tornado swirls debris across road in front of storm chasers in Harper, Iowa

Video shows a tornado and swirling debris cross the road in front of storm chasers in Harper, Iowa.

Wapello County, Iowa hit by large tornado

Social media video shows the Wapello County tornado from 4 miles south of Hedrick, Iowa.

Ames, Iowa pelted by large hail

Video shot on the Iowa State University campus shows quarter-size hail pelting Ames, Iowa on Friday.

Three people were killed in Indiana by a storm Friday night that damaged homes and a volunteer fire department near Sullivan, a city about a 95-mile drive southwest of Indianapolis, State Police Sgt. Matt Ames said.

In Madison County, Alabama, one person died and five were injured overnight, officials said during a news conference Saturday morning.

In Pontotoc County, Mississippi, one person died and four others were injured, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Allen Strickland, McNairy County director of emergency management, confirmed the seven deaths in the county, which is located in southern Tennessee between Nashville and Memphis, on Saturday afternoon.

At least 50 people were sent to hospitals in Arkansas' Pulaski County, where a tornado roared through the Little Rock area Friday, county spokesperson Madeline Roberts said. Five others were hospitalized after a tornado touched down Friday in Covington, Tennessee, according to a spokesperson for Baptist Memorial Health Care. Roads were left impassable.

Several reported tornadoes and severe storms devastated the Midwest and South.

In Little Rock, the "impact is devastating," Mayor Frank Scott told CNN on Saturday. "Literally, in a matter of minutes, it went through the entire western portion of the city of Little Rock ... It just came out of nowhere."

At last 2,100 residents in the pathway of the tornado were affected, he said. Neighborhoods and commercial businesses were flattened.

More than 35,000 people in the state were still without power Saturday afternoon, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us.

A car is upturned in a Kroger parking lot after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., March 31, 2023.
Andrew Demillo/AP

Preliminary information shows at least 22 tornadoes were reported in Illinois, eight in Iowa, four in Tennessee, five in Wisconsin and a couple in Mississippi.

In Arkansas, at least a dozen tornadoes were reported, including in the Little Rock area. Twisters in Arkansas left homes nearly leveled, and roads were covered with what once was the roofs and walls of buildings.

William Williams, who told CNN affiliate KATV he's an employee at a Kroger supermarket in Little Rock, said he's "thankful to be alive" after a tornado rolled near the area while he was working Friday afternoon. He took shelter inside the store and went outside afterward to see people injured, including a woman he said had a severe leg injury.

"Everything happened in like five seconds. It came -- boom," Williams told KATV. "You could hear a lot of commotion and stuff. ... I go outside, and it is crazy. People had blood all over their faces. ... I'm just thankful that I'm alive."

About 100 miles east of Little Rock, the city of Wynne was "basically cut in half by damage from east to west," Mayor Jennifer Hobbs told CNN Friday evening.

The National Weather Service says a "catastrophic" tornado hit Little Rock, Arkansas Friday.

"We are still in triage mode," Hobbs said, adding that crews were trying to determine the severity of the damage and any potential injuries.

Some houses in Wynne -- home to about 8,000 residents -- were completely crushed into piles of wood while others had their roofs ripped off, exposing the interiors of homes littered with storm debris, drone footage provided to CNN by Ray Sharp show. Many trees toppled, making what appears to be residential roads impassable and damaging structures.

Friday's severe storms came a week after severe weather walloped the Southeast and killed at least 26 people. An overnight tornado, which makes people most prone to extensive damages, leveled much of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where estimated maximum winds of 170 mph roared.

Theater roof crumbles amid storms

In northern Illinois, more than 200 people were inside the Apollo Theatre in Belvidere for an event when its roof collapsed Friday night, leaving one person dead and dozens injured, the city fire chief said. The collapse came as a line of storms packing 50 mph winds and dumping hail moved through the area, according to officials and the National Weather Service. It wasn't immediately clear whether the storm caused the theater's roof to crumble.

Twenty-eight people were taken to hospitals because of the collapse, Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said.

Meanwhile in Indiana, the storm ripped through Sullivan County, trapping a local official's wife inside their home until their son rescued her.

Jim Pirtle, the emergency management director for the county, told CNN his house and many others were destroyed Friday night.

"I called (my wife) 45 minutes before it hit. I told her, 'Robin, you need to go somewhere.' We don't have a basement," Pirtle said. "I was on the phone with her and she was crying, 'Jim, I love you' and it started tearing the house apart.

"We got hit bad," Pirtle said speaking by phone from Florida, adding he was working with emergency officials remotely.

"I'm not sure about fatalities yet," he added. "We still got people missing."

Houses in Sullivan, a city home to about 4,000 residents, multiple houses were severely damaged due to the storm, Mayor Clint Lamb said.

"We need all citizens to stay safe and stay put," Lamb said in a Facebook post overnight. "First responders need clear streets so they can tend to affected areas. Please pray for the Sullivan families and public safety personnel."

Howard, Johnson and Sullivan counties have been hit hard by storms, according to meteorologist Andrew White with the Indianapolis Office of the National Weather Service.

However, the damage in Howard County was minor and reported no injuries, according to emergency management director Janice Hart.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Saturday declared a disaster emergency for Sullivan and Johnson counties, and said Indiana officials were working with FEMA to assess damages.

Bidens visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, hit by storms last weekend

Among those at risk for tornadoes was an area that was hit by deadly storms last weekend. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited one of those locations -- Rolling Fork, Mississippi -- on Friday.

"Jill and I are here to show our support," Biden said during remarks in the town on Friday, standing amid the destruction. "I know there's a lot of pain and it's hard to believe in a moment like this, this community's going to be rebuilt, and rebuilt back better than it was before."

Nearly two dozen people were killed in the storms.

More severe weather could be on the way

Saturday morning, about 70 million people are under a slight risk of severe weather -- a Level 2 of 5 -- in parts of the Ohio Valley, the Northeast, including New York City and Philadelphia, and parts of the Southeast, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Storms across the Southeast are expected to remain strong to severe through Saturday afternoon, but these storms should push offshore by the evening.

A round of severe storms including damaging winds is expected to ramp up across portions of the Northeast in the afternoon through the evening. These storms could affect some of the big Northeast cities, including Philadelphia, New York, and Boston in the evening.

On Friday, large hail proved to be dangerous when it bombarded northern Illinois, cracking and denting cars' windshields, according to a Facebook post from the Fulton County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.

About 78 miles southeast of there, several businesses were "basically destroyed," Sheriff Jack Campbell told CNN, and up to 40 homes were damaged around Sherman, less than 10 miles north of Springfield.

The damaged interior of store after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., Mar. 31, 2023.
Andrew Demillo/AP
A home is damaged and trees are down after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., on March 31, 2023.
Andrew Demillo/AP
A home is damaged and trees are down after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., on March 31, 2023.
Andrew Demillo/AP

More than 450,000 homes and businesses were in the dark early Saturday across Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee, with about one-third of the outages reported in Indiana, according to the tracking website PowerOutage.us.

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency, noting the state will "spare no resource" in responding and recovering from the storm and activated the state's National Guard.

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