Devastating storms and tornadoes scraped the South and Midwest Friday into early Saturday, killing at least five people, injuring dozens more, trapping others in their homes, and damaging businesses and critical infrastructure – with the threat of more severe weather looming into Saturday afternoon.
More than 50 preliminary tornado reports were made Friday in at least six states, including in Arkansas, where storms killed three people – two in the small city of Wynne and another person in North Little Rock, local officials said.
Two 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.
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.
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 that state 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’d taken 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.
“We are still in triage mode,” Hobbs said, adding that crews were trying to determine the severity of the damage and any potential injuries.
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 as a result of the collapse, Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said.
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.
Tornadoes still could happen in southeastern Indiana, western Ohio and northern Kentucky on Saturday through 5 a.m. ET, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The area, which includes the cities of Dayton and Cincinnati, was under a tornado watch that warned of wind gusts up to 70 mph along with large hail.
For Saturday, about 55 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 the Storm Prediction Center.
Scattered strong to severe thunderstorms could happen in these areas, and hail and few tornadoes are possible, the center said.
On Friday, large hail proved to be a 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.
Nearly 300,000 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.