Homes damaged by a tornado are seen in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States, on Friday. AFP
A monster storm system tore through the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that shredded homes and shopping centers in Arkansas, collapsed a theater roof during a heavy metal concert in Illinois and made a deadly sweep across the border into rural Indiana.
The storm caused three fatalities in Sullivan County, Indiana, Emergency Management Director Jim Pirtle said in an email to The Associated Press early Saturday. The storm damaged homes and some residents were missing in the county seat of Sullivan, located near the Illinois state line about 95 miles (152 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
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Authorities estimated there were at least 600 injuries so far, and Little Rock police were transporting people to hospitals as there were not enough ambulances to respond, according to local media outlet KTHV.
At least two tornadoes have been confirmed so far. Little Rock's Fire Department said on social media that heavy damage was caused and there was debris in the western end of the city.
The damaged remains in Arkansas, United States, on Friday. AFP
As of 4pm local time, nearly 75,000 customers were without power across the state, according to PowerOutage.us.
At least one person was killed and more than two dozen were hurt, some critically, in the Little Rock area, authorities said. The town of Wynne in northeastern Arkansas was also devastated, and officials reported two dead there, along with destroyed homes and people trapped in the debris.
The governor at a briefing with Little Rock officials Friday night said it was possible the number of deaths could rise.
Authorities said a theater roof collapsed during a tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, killing one person and injuring 28, five of them severely. 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 pm It said that an initial assessment was that a tornado had caused the damage.
The threat of dangerous severe storms, including tornadoes, will last into early on Saturday, meteorologists said.
The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theatre during a heavy metal concert in the town located about 70 miles (113 kilometres) northwest of Chicago.
A family being evacuated from their Walnut Ridge neighbourhood in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States, on Friday. AFP
Belvidere Fire Department Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue. He said first responders also rescued someone from an elevator and had to grapple 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.”
Residents embrace each other after a tornado hits Little Rock, Arkansas, US. AFP
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 OK.’ I didn’t really know much else what to do.”
There were more confirmed twisters in Iowa and wind-whipped grass fires blazed in Oklahoma, as the storm system threatened a broad swath of the country home to some 85 million people.
The destructive weather came as President Joe Biden toured the aftermath of a deadly tornado that struck in Mississippi one week ago and promised the government would help the area recover.
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.
In the evening, officials in Pulaski County announced a confirmed fatality in North Little Rock but did not immediately give details.
An emergency alert was issued for the state capital Jefferson City advising people to take shelter as heavy rain, hail, wind and lightning struck the state, along with neighboring Oklahoma and Kansas.
Emergency management officials in Madison County said four were injured in addition to those killed when the tornado touched down in the area southwest of Des Moines at about 4:30pm. Among those killed were children and adults.
Pat Lindsey, a resident of the county's hard-hit town of Ohatchee, told The Associated Press that a neighbor of his was killed when a twister destroyed his mobile home. "He was good as gold,” Lindsey said.
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