Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest killed at least 11 people, collapsed the roof of a packed theater during a heavy metal concert in Illinois, and left small towns and big cities throughout the region bewildered Saturday by the damage.
Tornadoes touched down into the night, laying waste to homes and businesses and stripping bark and limbs off trees, as 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, Mississippi 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.”
In Belvidere, Illinois, 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 theater, 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.
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, Sullivan, near the Illinois line about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
In the Little Rock area, at least one person was killed and more than two dozen were hurt, some critically, authorities said.
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.
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 President Joe Biden visited the Mississippi community of Rolling Fork, where tornadoes last week reduced destroyed parts of town.
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 and damaged homes in the city of Hills.
Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages. Hail broke windows on cars and buildings northeast of Peoria, Illinois, and over 109,000 customers lost power Friday night. Outages were also reported in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
Meanwhile, blizzard conditions whipped parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, cutting power to some customers in the Twin Cities area, as the system smothered a broad swath of the country home to some 85 million people.
Nearly 100 new wildfires were reported Friday in Oklahoma, according to the state forest service, and firefighters hoped to gain ground against them Saturday. Fires will remain a danger through the week, especially for northern and western parts of the state.
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.