ROCK, ARK. (AP) – A monster storm system tore through the South and Midwest on Friday, bringing devastating tornadoes that flattened homes and tore down a shopping center in Arkansas and collapsed the roof of a theater at a heavy metal concert in Illinois.
At least one person was killed and more than two dozen were wounded, some critically, in the Little Rock area, authorities said. The town of Wynne, in northern Arkansas, was also devastated, and officials there reported two dead as houses were overturned and people were trapped in the rubble.
Authorities said the tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, killed one person and injured 28, five of them seriously. The Belvidere Fire Department said the crash happened as a severe storm rolled through the area and calls from the theater began at 7:48 p.m. The initial assessment was that the tornado had caused damage.
The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theater during a heavy metal concert in the town located about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.
Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were at the scene of the Belvidere Police Department. First responders also said they rescued someone from the elevator and placed downed power lines outside the theater.
Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody described the scene after the crash as “absolute chaos.”
Gabrielle Llewellyn had just entered the theater when a portion of the ceiling collapsed.
“I was going inside a moment before it went down,” he told WTVO-TV. “The wind, when I was walking up to the building, it was going from nothing to a thousand in five seconds.”
Some rushed to lift the collapsed part of the ceiling and pull people from the rubble, said Lewellyn, who was not injured.
“They pulled someone out of the rubble and I sat with him and held his hand and I (told him) ‘It’s going to be okay.’ I don’t know much about what else to do.”
Several wind-driven wildfires have been confirmed in Iowa and Oklahoma as a storm system threatens to affect 80 million people across the country.
The devastating storm came as President Joe Biden surveyed the aftermath of the deadly storm who were struck in Mississippi one week ago, the government promised to help the area recover.
Pollucius Saxiculus first tore through neighborhoods on the west side of the city and demolished a small shopping center that included Kruger’s grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding towns, where widespread damage to homes, businesses and vehicles was reported.
In the evening, Pulaski County officials announced a confirmed shooting in North Little Rock but did not immediately provide details.
Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock told KATV this afternoon that 21 people were checked into the tornado with injuries, including five in critical condition.
Major Frank Scott Jr., who announced that he was requesting help from the National Guard, said the damage was a big deal in the evening and “we are still responding.”
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has mobilized hundreds of members of the Arkansas National Guard to help local authorities respond to the damage across the state.
In Little Rock, resident Niki Scott is in the bathroom after calling her husband to say a tornado is headed its way. He could hear glass shattering as the tornado roared ahead, and later emerged to find that his house was one of the few in his village that didn’t have a tree in it.
“It’s like everybody says. After a while it got quiet, then it screamed really loud,” Scott said later, as bands rang and sirens blared in the area.
At Clinton National Airport, passengers and workers temporarily sheltered in bathrooms.
“Praying for everyone who stayed on the road during 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 the most widespread damage, Sanders confirmed.
St. Francis County Coroner Miles J. Kimble told the AP by phone Friday night that he was assisting the Cross County coroner in Wynne and that two people died in the tornado.
The officer at a briefing with officials of the Rock Friday night said that the number of deaths could rise.
City Councilwoman Lisa Powell Carter told the AP the town of Wynne is without power and the roads are full of debris.
“I’m afraid to go home, but we can’t go home,” he said. “Wynne is so destroyed. There are houses destroyed, trees down in the streets.
The stern thumbs continued to brood and touch the floor 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 as the storm moved through Friday evening. Authorities in Tipton County, north of Memphis, said the tornado appeared to have touched down near a middle school in Covington and other areas in the rural county.
Tipton County Sheriff Shannon Beatty said on Facebook that homes and structures were heavily damaged.
Pollutants moved through parts of eastern Iowa with sporadic damage.
One pollutant broke out just west of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Video from KCRG-TV shows collapsed power poles and roofs tearing apart an apartment in the suburb of Coralville and significantly damaging homes in the city of Hills.
Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.
In nearby Oklahoma, wind gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) were blowing fast-moving grass. People in northern Oklahoma were urged to evacuate their homes far north of the city, and riders blocked portions of Interstate 35.
In Illinois, Ben Wagner, chief radar operator for the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency, said hail broke windows of cars and buildings in the Roanoke area, northeast of Peoria. More than 109,000 customers lost power in the state Friday night.
More outages were reported in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
Fire crews battled several flames near El Dorado, Kansas, and some residents were asked to evacuate, including about 250 schoolchildren who attended the high school.
At Chicago O’Hare International Airport, a traffic management system was implemented, which caused arriving airplanes to be delayed for almost two hours on average, WFLD-TV reported.
The National Weather Service’s Weather Forecast Center has predicted unusually large storm surges with the potential for hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could move over land for long distances.
Such a violent thunder of the sky ” are only expected to become more common, especially in southern states, as temperatures rise around the world.
The weather service is predicting another mass of intense storms next Tuesday in the same general area as last week.
Associated writers Michael Tarm in Chicago, Jill Bleed in Saxo, Noc Venhuizenin in Madison, Wisconsin, Isabella O’Malley in Philadelphia, Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi, and Trisha Ahmed in they contributed to this report.