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Tornadoes hit Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee; At least 16 killed, dozens injured

A giant storm system tore through the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that tore apart homes and shopping centers in Arkansas and caused the roof of a theater to collapse during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.

Seven people were killed in McNary County, Tennessee Mayor Larry W. Smith told CBS News on Saturday. Mayor McNairy has declared a state of emergency for the county.

More than two dozen were injured in the Little Rock area, some seriously, authorities said. The town of Wynne in northeastern Arkansas was also devastated. Four people died there, the city’s coroner told CBS News. Officials also said there were people trapped in the rubble of destroyed houses.

Jim Pirtle, director of emergency management in Sullivan County, Indiana, told CBS News that there were three deaths. CBS News has confirmed one death in Mississippi’s Pontotoc County.

The roof of a theater collapsed during a tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, killing one person and injuring 28 people, five of them seriously, authorities said. The Belvedere Police Department said the collapse was caused by a strong storm moving through the area, and calls from the theater at 7:48 p.m. said there was a preliminary assessment that a tornado had caused the damage.

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

Severe weather in Illinois

Authorities work the scene at the Apollo Theater after a severe spring storm caused damage and injuries during a concert in Belvidere, Ill., late Friday, March 31, 2023.

Matt Merton/AP

Belvidere Fire Department Chief Sean Schadle said 260 people were on the scene. First responders also rescued one person from an elevator and had to scramble along power lines outside the theater, he said.

Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody described the scene after the collapse as “chaos, total chaos.”

Gabriel Llewellyn had just entered the theater when part of the ceiling collapsed.

“I was there within a minute of it going down,” he told WTVO-TV. “The wind, as I walked up to the building, it went from zero to a thousand in five seconds.”

Some people rushed to lift the collapsed roof and pull people from the rubble, said Llewellyn, who was not injured.

“They pulled a guy out of the wreckage and I sat with him and I held his hand and I (told him) ‘It’s going to be okay.’ I really didn’t know what to do.”

There were more confirmed twisters in Iowa and wind-whipped grass fires burning in Oklahoma, as the storm system threatened a sprawling nation home to about 85 million people.

The devastating weather came as President Joe Biden visited Mississippi a week ago after a deadly tornado struck and promised the government would help the region recover.

The Little Rock tornado first tore through neighborhoods on the west side of the city and destroyed a small shopping center that included a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding towns, where extensive damage to homes, businesses and vehicles was reported.

Severe Weather Arkansas

A home is damaged and trees downed by a tornado in Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

Andrew DeMillo/AP

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

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

Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who announced he was requesting assistance from the National Guard, tweeted in the evening that property damage was extensive and “we are still responding.”

Governor 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 took cover in the bathroom when her husband called to say a tornado was headed her way. As the tornado roared by, he heard the sound of shattering glass, and later discovered that his house was one of the few on his street that didn’t have a tree fall on it.

“It’s just like everybody says. It got really quiet, then it got really loud,” Scott said later, as chainsaws roared and sirens rang in the area.

Passengers and workers take temporary shelter in bathrooms at Clinton National Airport.

“Praying for those who were and remain in the path of this storm,” Sanders, who declared a state of emergency, said on Twitter.

About 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, saw extensive tornado damage, Sanders confirmed.

Severe Weather Iowa

Homes are damaged after a tornado touched down in Coralville, Iowa, on Friday, March 31, 2023.

Ryan Foley/AP

St. Francis County Coroner Miles J. Kimball 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.

In a briefing with Little Rock officials Friday night, the governor said the death toll could rise.

City Council member Lisa Powell Carter told the AP that the wine town was without power and the streets were littered with debris.

“I’m in a panic trying to get home, but we can’t get home,” he said. “Wine is so broken. … There are houses destroyed, trees down the road.”

Uninterrupted tornadoes continue to sweep and touch down in the area through the night.

The police department in Covington, Tennessee, said on Facebook that the west Tennessee city was impassable after downed power lines and trees as the storm moved through Friday evening. Authorities in Tipton County, north of Memphis, said a tornado appeared to have touched down near a middle school in Covington and elsewhere in the rural county.

Tipton County Sheriff Shannon Beasley said on Facebook that homes and structures were severely damaged.

Tornadoes moved through parts of eastern Iowa with scattered damage.

A tornado touched down just west of Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa. KCRG-TV video showed downed power poles and roofs tearing off an apartment building in the suburb of Coralville, and homes in the city of Hills were significantly damaged.

About 90,000 customers lost power in Arkansas, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.

In neighboring Oklahoma, wind gusts of up to 60 mph (96 km/h) fueled a fast-moving grass fire. In far northeast Oklahoma City, people were urged to evacuate their homes and troopers closed parts of Interstate 35.

APTOPIX Severe Weather Arkansas

A car is overturned in a Kroger parking lot after a strong storm moved through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

Andrew DeMillo/AP

In Illinois, hail shattered windows on 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 lost power in the state as of Friday night.

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

Fire crews battled several blazes near El Dorado, Kansas, and some residents were asked to evacuate, including about 250 elementary school children who were moved to a high school.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a traffic management program was implemented that delayed arriving planes by an average of about two hours, WFLD-TV reported.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center predicted an unusually large thunderstorm outbreak that could produce hail, damaging wind gusts and powerful tornadoes that could travel long distances over the ground.

Such “intense supercell thunderstorms” are only expected to become more common, especially in southern states, as temperatures rise around the world.

The weather service is predicting another severe storm next Tuesday in the same general area as last week.

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