On Friday, a colossal storm system tore through the Southern and Midwestern regions of the United States, generating deadly tornadoes that pulverized homes and shopping centers in Arkansas, and caused a theater roof to collapse during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.
According to authorities, at least one person died, and more than two dozen were injured, some critically, in the Little Rock area.
The town of Wynne in northeastern Arkansas was also severely impacted, with officials reporting two fatalities, in addition to homes being destroyed, and people being trapped in the debris.
The Belvidere Police Department reported that a theater roof collapsed during a tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, resulting in one death and 28 injuries, five of which were serious.
The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theatre during a heavy metal concert in the town, which is situated about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.
The police department stated that the calls started coming in from the theater at 7:48 p.m., and an initial assessment suggested that a tornado had caused the damage.
Belvidere Fire Department Chief, Shawn Schadle, reported that around 260 individuals were present at the concert venue when the theater roof collapsed.
Furthermore, he stated that first responders were required to rescue an individual who was trapped in an elevator and that they had to navigate through downed power lines outside the theater.
Belvidere Police Chief, Shane Woody, described the aftermath of the collapse as a state of “chaos, absolute chaos.”
Gabrielle Lewellyn, who had recently arrived at the theater, shared her account of the incident with WTVO-TV. She stated that she had just entered the building when a section of the ceiling suddenly collapsed.
According to her, the winds intensified quickly, going from “zero to a thousand within five seconds” as she approached the venue.
Lewellyn also mentioned that several people acted promptly, attempting to lift the collapsed ceiling and extract individuals from the debris. Fortunately, she herself did not sustain any injuries during the incident.
“I helped pull someone out from under the debris and sat with them, holding their hand and reassuring them that everything would be alright. I didn’t know what else to do at that moment,” a witness reported.
The storm system responsible for the devastating tornadoes also led to several confirmed twisters in Iowa, as well as wind-whipped grass fires in Oklahoma.
The system posed a significant threat to a wide area of the country, which is home to around 85 million people.
The destructive weather coincided with President Joe Biden’s visit to the region affected by a fatal tornado that struck Mississippi one week prior. The President pledged to provide assistance from the government to help the affected region recover.
On Friday, a tornado hit the city of Little Rock in Arkansas, tearing through neighborhoods in the western part of the city and causing widespread damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles.
The tornado also destroyed a small shopping center that included a Kroger grocery store. After crossing the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding cities, the tornado caused further damage.
Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock reported that 21 people had checked in there with tornado-related injuries, including five in critical condition. Officials in Pulaski County announced a confirmed fatality in North Little Rock.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. requested assistance from the National Guard, and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders activated 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard to help local authorities respond to the damage throughout the state.
Clinton National Airport had to shelter passengers and workers temporarily in bathrooms.
The small city of Wynne, Arkansas, located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, also experienced widespread tornado damage, and two people died there.
The governor warned that the number of deaths could rise. Covington, Tennessee, was impassable after power lines and trees fell on roads, and authorities in Tipton County said a tornado appeared to have touched down near the middle school in Covington and in other locations in the rural county.
Tornadoes also moved through parts of eastern Iowa, causing sporadic damage.
Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, and power outages were also reported in neighboring states. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) fueled fast-moving grass fires in Oklahoma, prompting evacuations in far northeast Oklahoma City.
In Illinois, hail broke windows on cars and buildings in the area of Roanoke, and more than 109,000 customers lost power.
Fire 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.
At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, arriving planes were delayed by nearly two hours on average due to a traffic management program.
The National Weather Service had forecast an unusually large outbreak of thunderstorms that could cause hail, damaging wind gusts, and strong tornadoes that could move for long distances over the ground.
The frequency of severe “supercell” thunderstorms is projected to increase, particularly in the Southern region of the United States, as global temperatures continue to rise. This pattern of weather is expected to persist and intensify in the future.
The National Weather Service predicts another wave of severe storms in the same general area as last week for next Tuesday.