Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest killed at least 11 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 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 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 okay.’ 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.
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders activated 100 members of the National Guard to help local authorities respond throughout the state.
The unrelenting tornadoes continued to touch 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.