Over 20 dead after tornadoes wreak havoc in Midwest, South
In Belvidere, Ill., Fire Chief Shawn Schadle witnessed “absolute chaos” at a theater with a collapsed roof and 260 people at the venue
UPDATE (9:02 p.m. Central time):
By Adrian Sainz and Andrew DeMillo
WYNNE, Ark. — Storms that dropped possibly dozens of tornadoes killed at least 21 people in small towns and big cities across the South and Midwest, tearing a path through the Arkansas capital, collapsing the roof of a packed concert venue in Illinois, and stunning people throughout the region Saturday with the damage’s scope.
Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least eight states destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees and laid waste to neighborhoods across a broad swath of the country. The dead included at least seven in one Tennessee county, four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, three in Sullivan, Indiana, and four in Illinois.
Other deaths from the storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama and Mississippi, along with one near Little Rock, Arkansas, where city officials said more than 2,600 buildings were in a tornado’s path.
Residents of Wynne, Tennessee, a community of about 8,000 people 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, woke Saturday to find the high school’s roof shredded and its windows blown out. Huge trees lay on the ground, their stumps reduced to nubs. Broken walls, windows and roofs pocked homes and businesses.
Debris lay scattered inside the shells of homes and on lawns: clothing, insulation, toys, splintered furniture, a pickup truck with its windows shattered.
Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in a small bathroom as a tornado passed, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead.” A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but they were unhurt.
“We could feel the house shaking, we could hear loud noises, dishes rattling. And then it just got calm,” she said.
Recovery was already underway, with workers using chainsaws and bulldozers to clear the area and utility crews restoring power.
At least seven people died in Tennessee’s McNairy County, east of Memphis, said David Leckner, the mayor of Adamsville. The number could still climb as crews continued to search through the wreckage.
“The majority of the damage has been done to homes and residential areas,” Leckner said.
Gov. Bill Lee drove to the county Saturday to tour the destruction and comfort residents. He said the storm capped the “worst” week of his time as governor, coming days after a school shooting in Nashville that killed six people including a family friend whose funeral he and his wife, Maria, attended earlier in the day.
“It’s terrible what has happened in this community, this county, this state,” Lee said. “But it looks like your community has done what Tennessean communities do, and that is rally and respond.”
Jeffrey Day said he called his daughter after seeing on the news that their community of Adamsville was being hit. Huddled in a closet with her two-year-old son as the storm passed over, she answered the phone screaming.
“She kept asking me, ‘What do I do, daddy?’” Day said, tearing up. “I didn’t know what to say.”
After the storm passed, his daughter crawled out of her destroyed home and over barbed wire and drove to nearby family. On Saturday evening, baby clothes were still strewn about the site.
Tennessee officials warned that the same weather conditions from Friday night are expected to return Tuesday.
In Belvidere, Illinois, part of the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed as about 260 people were attending a heavy metal concert. A 50-year-old man was pulled from the rubble.
“I sat with him and I held his hand and I was (telling him), ‘It’s going to be OK.’ I didn’t really know much else what to do,” concertgoer Gabrielle Lewellyn told WTVO-TV.
The man was dead by the time emergency workers arrived. Officials said 40 others were hurt, including two with life-threatening injuries.
On Saturday, crews were cleaning up around the Apollo, with forklifts pulling away loose bricks. Business owners picked up glass shards and covered shattered windows.
In Crawford County, Illinois, three people were killed and eight injured when a tornado hit around New Hebron, Bill Burke, the county board chair, said.
Sheriff Bill Rutan said 60 to 100 families were displaced.
“We’ve had emergency crews digging people out of their basements because the house is collapsed on top of them, but luckily they had that safe space to go to,” Rutan said at a news conference.
That tornado was not far from where three people died in Indiana’s Sullivan County, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said at a news conference that an area south of the county seat of about 4,000 “is essentially unrecognizable right now” and that several people were rescued overnight. There were reports of as many as 12 people injured, he said.
“I’m really, really shocked there isn’t more as far as human issues,” he said, adding that recovery “is going to be a very long process.”
In the Little Rock area, at least one person was killed and more than 50 were hurt, some critically.
The National Weather Service said that tornado was a high-end EF3 twister with wind speeds up to 165 mph (265 kph) and a path as long as 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Masoud Shahed-Ghaznavi was lunching at home when it roared through his neighborhood, causing him to hide in the laundry room as sheetrock fell and windows shattered. When he emerged, the house was mostly rubble.
“Everything around me is sky,” Shahed-Ghaznavi recalled Saturday. He barely slept Friday night.
“When I closed my eyes, I couldn’t sleep, imagined I was here,” he said Saturday outside his home.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
Another suspected tornado killed a woman in northern Alabama’s Madison County, officials said, and in northern Mississippi’s Pontotoc County, one death and four injuries were confirmed.
Tornadoes also caused damage in eastern Iowa and broke windows northeast of Peoria, Illinois.
The storms struck just hours after President Joe Biden visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where tornadoes last week destroyed parts of town.
It could take days to determine the exact number of tornadoes from the latest event, said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center. There were also hundreds of reports of large hail and damaging winds, he said.
“That’s a quite active day,” he said. “But that’s not unprecedented.”
More than 530,000 homes and businesses were without power as of midday Saturday, over 200,000 of them in Ohio, according to PowerOutage.us.
The sprawling storm system also brought wildfires to the southern Plains, with authorities in Oklahoma reporting nearly 100 of them Friday. At least 32 people were said to be injured, and more than 40 homes destroyed.
The storms also caused blizzard conditions in the Upper Midwest.
A threat of tornadoes and hail remained for the Northeast including in parts of Pennsylvania and New York.
DeMillo reported from Little Rock. Associated Press writers around the country contributed to this report, including Kimberlee Kruesi in Adamsville, Tennessee; Harm Venhuizen in Belvidere, Illinois, and Corey Williams in Detroit.
By Andrew DeMillo and Adrian Sainz
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest killed at least 10 people, shredded homes and shopping centers, and collapsed a theater roof during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.
Emergency responders across the region counted the dead and surveyed the damage Saturday morning after tornadoes touched down into the night, part of a sprawling storm system that also brought wildfires to the southern Plains and blizzard conditions to the Upper Midwest.
The dead included four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, Cross County Coroner Eli Long told KAIT-TV.
Other deaths were reported in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana and the Little Rock area.
Wynne City Councilmember Lisa Powell Carter said the town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, was without power and roads were full of debris.
“I’m in a panic trying to get home, but we can’t get home,” she said Friday night. “Wynne is so demolished. ... There’s houses destroyed, trees down on streets.”
The storms also killed three people in Sullivan County, Indiana, Emergency Management Director Jim Pirtle said in an email. Some residents were missing in the county seat of Sullivan, near the Illinois line about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
At least one person was killed and more than two dozen were hurt, some critically, in the Little Rock area, authorities said.
In Belvidere, Illinois, the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed during a tornado, killing one person and injuring 28, five severely. Calls began coming from the theater, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Chicago, shortly before 8 p.m., police said. The venue’s Facebook page said the bands scheduled to perform were Morbid Angel, Crypta, Skeletal Remains and Revocation.
Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue. Responders also rescued someone from an elevator and had to deal with downed power lines outside the theater.
Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody described the scene after the collapse as “chaos, absolute chaos.”
Gabrielle Lewellyn had just entered the theater when a portion of the ceiling collapsed.
“I was there within a minute before it came down,” she told WTVO-TV. “The winds, when I was walking up to the building, it went like from zero to a thousand within five seconds.”
Some people rushed to lift the collapsed portion of the ceiling and pull people out of the rubble, said Lewellyn, who wasn’t hurt.
“They dragged someone out from the rubble and I sat with him and I held his hand and I was (telling him) ‘It’s going to be OK.’ I didn’t really know much else what to do.”
A tornado also killed a woman and critically injured three other people in Madison County, Alabama, emergency services worker Don Webster told WAFF-TV.
The tornado in Little Rock tore first through neighborhoods in the western part of the Arkansas capital and shredded a small shopping center that included a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding cities, where widespread damage was reported to homes, businesses and vehicles.
Little Rock resident Niki Scott took cover in the bathroom after her husband called to warn her of a tornado. She could hear glass shattering and emerged to find that her house was one of the few on her street that didn’t have a tree on it.
“It’s just like everyone says. It got really quiet, then it got really loud,” Scott said afterward, as chainsaws roared and sirens blared.
In the evening, officials in Pulaski County announced a confirmed fatality in North Little Rock.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders activated 100 members of the National Guard to help local authorities respond throughout the state.
The unrelenting tornadoes continued touched down in the region into the night.
The police department in Covington, Tennessee, said on Facebook that the west Tennessee city was impassable after power lines and trees fell on roads when the storm passed through Friday evening.
Authorities in Tipton County, north of Memphis, said a tornado appeared to have touched down near the middle school in Covington and in other locations in the rural county.
Tipton County Sheriff Shannon Beasley said on Facebook that homes and structures were severely damaged.
Tornadoes also caused sporadic damage in eastern Iowa. One veered just west of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Video from KCRG-TV showed toppled power poles and roofs ripped off an apartment building in the suburb of Coralville and significantly damaged homes in the city of Hills.
Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.
Outages were also reported in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
In Illinois, Ben Wagner, chief radar operator for the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency, said hail broke windows on cars and buildings in the area of Roanoke, northeast of Peoria. More than 109,000 customers had lost power in the state as of Friday night.
There were more confirmed twisters in Iowa, wind-whipped grass fires in Oklahoma, and blizzard conditions in the Upper Midwest as the storm system threatened a broad swath of the country home to some 85 million people.
Fire crews battled several blazes near El Dorado, Kansas, and some residents were asked to evacuate, including about 250 elementary school children who were relocated to a high school.
Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee. Associated Press writers around the country contributed to this report.