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Deadly tornadoes strike U.S. South and Midwest, causing roof of concert theatre to collapse

Storms that dropped possibly dozens of tornadoes killed at least 18 people in small towns and big cities across the southern U.S. 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 on Saturday with the damage’s scope.

Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least seven states destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees and lay waste to neighbourhoods across a broad swath of the country. The dead included seven in Tennessee’s McNairy County, four in the small town of Wynne, Ark., and three in Sullivan, Ind.

Wynne city council member Lisa Powell Carter said the community, located about 80 kilometres west of Memphis, Tenn., 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 are houses destroyed, trees down on streets.”

Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb told 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 from rubble overnight. There were reports of as many as 12 people injured, he said, and search-and-rescue teams combed damaged areas.

“Quite frankly, 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.”

1 killed, nearly 30 hurt at concert 

In Belvidere, Ill., a tornado collapsed the roof of the Apollo Theatre as 260 people attended a heavy metal concert, killing one person and injuring 28, five of them severely, officials said. 

People rushed to lift the collapsed part of the ceiling and pull people out of the rubble, Gabrielle Lewellyn, who had just entered the theatre, told WTVO-TV.

“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,” Lewellyn said.

The venue’s Facebook page said the bands scheduled to perform were Morbid Angel, Crypta, Skeletal Remains and Revocation.

A marquis droops at an angle, with one end touching the ground near a city street. A man in a red helmet stands nearby. The street and sidewalk are dirty.
Authorities examine the scene at the Apollo Theatre in Belvidere, Ill., after a tornado killed one person and caused damage and injuries during a concert late Friday. (Matt Marton/The Associated Press)

In the Little Rock, Ark., area, at least one person was killed and more than two dozen were hurt, some critically, authorities said.

The tornado in Little Rock first tore through neighbourhoods in the western part of the Arkansas capital and shredded a small shopping centre 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.

Really quiet, then really loud

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.

A suspected tornado killed a woman in northern Alabama’s Madison County as it destroyed several buildings, said county official Mac McCutcheon. And in northern Mississippi’s Pontotoc County, the state emergency management agency confirmed one death and four injuries. 

The storms struck just hours after U.S. President Joe Biden visited the Mississippi community of Rolling Fork, where tornadoes last week destroyed parts of the town.

People tour a tornado-hit neighbourhood.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after surveying tornado damage in Rolling Fork, Miss., on Friday. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Authorities in Tipton County, north of Memphis, said a tornado appeared to have touched down near a middle school and other locations. 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, as well as damaged homes in the city of Hills.

A car is turned upside down.
Homes damaged by a tornado are seen on Friday in Little Rock, Ark. Tornados damaged hundreds of homes and buildings Friday afternoon across a large part of central Arkansas. (Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

It could take days to determine the exact number of tornadoes, 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. But that’s not unprecedented,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands lost power because of the sprawling storm system that also brought wildfires to the southern Plains and blizzard conditions to the Upper Midwest, and left high winds in its wake. A threat of tornadoes and hail remained for the northeast, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York.

More than 530,000 homes and businesses in the affected area lacked power at midday Saturday, over 200,000 of them in Ohio, according to

The remnants of a house destroyed by a tornado.
Destroyed homes are shown on Friday after a tornado swept through Coralville, Iowa. (Ryan Foley/The Associated Press)

Hail broke windows on cars and buildings northeast of Peoria, Ill. And blizzard conditions whipped parts of Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin, cutting power to tens of thousands in the Twin Cities area. Parts of Interstate 29 were closed.

Nearly 100 new wildfires were reported on Friday in Oklahoma, according to the state forest service, and firefighters hoped to gain ground against them on Saturday. Fires were expected to remain a danger through the week.