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Tornadoes strike Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee; at least 21 dead, dozens injured in Midwest

A monster storm system tore through the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that shredded homes and shopping centers in Arkansas, and collapsing a theater roof during a heavy metal concert in Illinois. In total, at least 21 weather-related deaths have been reported across six states, according to the latest numbers compiled Saturday by CBS News. 

Seven people were killed in McNairy County, Tennessee Mayor Larry W. Smith told CBS News on Saturday. The mayor has declared a state of emergency for McNairy County. Near Huntsville, Alabama, a 90-year-old woman died inside her home after it was destroyed by a tornado, Don Webster, a spokesman with Huntsville Emergency Medical Services told CBS News.

The town of Wynne in northeastern Arkansas was also devastated. The town’s coroner told CBS News there were four people dead there. Officials also said there were people trapped in the debris of destroyed homes. More than two dozen were hurt, some critically, in the Little Rock area, authorities said. One weather-related death was reported in North Little Rock, according to Madeline Roberts, a spokesperson for the Pulaski County Emergency Management Agency.

Sullivan County, Indiana’s emergency management director Jim Pirtle told CBS News that there had been three deaths there. 

Authorities said a theater roof collapsed during a tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, killing a 50-year-old man and injuring about 40 others, officials said in a news briefing Saturday. The Belvidere Police Department said the collapse occurred as a heavy storm rolled through the area and that calls began coming from the theater at 7:48 p.m. It said that an initial assessment was that a tornado had caused the damage. 

The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theatre during a heavy metal concert in the town located about 70 miles northwest of Chicago. 

Two of the injured had life-threatening injuries, two had severe injuries, 18 had milder injuries, and five had minor injuries, Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said Saturday. 

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

Matt Marton / AP

Three people were killed when a residential structure collapsed in Crawford County, Alicia Tate-Nadeau, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, confirmed to CBS News. 

One weather-related death and four injuries occurred in Pontotoc County Friday, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. 

The destructive weather came as President Biden earlier Friday toured the aftermath of the tornado that struck Mississippi one week ago, killing at least 21 people. Mr. Biden promised the government would help the area recover.  

As of Saturday evening, more than 235,000 customers in Ohio were without power, according to utility tracker More than 275,000 were without power in Pennsylvania, and another 93,000 in Tennessee, along with 73,000 in West Virginia and 53,000 in Kentucky. 

Meanwhile, the Little Rock tornado tore first through neighborhoods in the western part of the city 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.

Severe Weather Arkansas
A home is damaged and trees are down after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

Andrew DeMillo / AP

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

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

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

In Little Rock, resident Niki Scott took cover in the bathroom after her husband called to say a tornado was headed her way. She could hear glass shattering as the tornado roared past and emerged afterward to find that her house was one of the few on her street that didn’t have a tree fall 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 area.

At Clinton National Airport, passengers and workers sheltered temporarily in bathrooms.

About 50 miles west of Memphis, Tennessee, the small city of Wynne, Arkansas, saw widespread tornado damage, Sanders confirmed.

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

Ryan Foley / AP

City Councilmember Lisa Powell Carter told AP that Wynne 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. “Wynne is so demolished. … There’s houses destroyed, trees down on streets.”

The unrelenting tornadoes continued spawning and touching down in the area 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 moved through parts of eastern Iowa, with sporadic damage.

One tornado 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.

In neighboring Oklahoma, wind gusts of up to 60 mph fueled fast-moving grass fires. People were urged to evacuate homes in far northeast Oklahoma City, and troopers shut down portions of Interstate 35.

APTOPIX Severe Weather Arkansas
A car is upturned in a Kroger parking lot after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

Andrew DeMillo / AP

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.

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.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a traffic management program was put into effect that caused arriving planes to be delayed by nearly two hours on average, WFLD-TV reported.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center had forecast an unusually large outbreak of thunderstorms with the potential to cause hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could move for 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 forecasting another batch of intense storms next Tuesday in the same general area as last week.

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