At least three people are dead and dozens of others were hospitalized after a series of brutal tornadoes tore through multiple states in the South and Midwest Friday, ripping homes to shreds and reducing neighborhoods to scattered debris as meteorologists warned the danger would continue into the night.
The first death was reported in North Little Rock, Arkansas after a violent tornado devastated the area Friday afternoon, Madeline Roberts, a spokesperson for Pulaski County, confirmed to CNN. There were at least 50 hospitalizations reported in the area and more were expected, Roberts said.
Further east, two people died after a violent storm wrecked the city of Wynne, said St. Francis County Coroner Miles Kimble, who traveled to Cross County to assist. CNN also reached out to the coroner’s office in Cross County, where Wynne is located.
The powerful storm that blew through the city trapped residents in their homes and damaged the area significantly, said Rebekah Magnus, with the state’s emergency management division. Footage from the area showed the storm leveled entire blocks across the city, devastating a local high school, ripping buildings apart and leaving little to resemble the homes that hours ago stood there.
The town was “cut in half by damage from east to west,” Wynne Mayor Jennifer Hobbs told CNN Friday evening. “We are still in triage mode,” the mayor added, explaining crews were working to determine the severity of the damage and any potential injuries.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency, saying the state will “spare no resource” in responding and recovering from the storm and activated the state’s National Guard. More than 74,000 customers were without power across the state Friday night, according to poweroutage.us.
The storm that pummeled Wynne prompted a tornado emergency in neighboring Tennessee, making the city of Covington “impassable, after ripping out trees and knocking down power lines, according to police. Covington is about 40 miles northeast of Memphis. At least five people were hospitalized at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton after the twister, according to spokesperson Kimberly Alexander. Another 20,000 were without power in Tennessee.
The same vicious storm system also rained down large hail in northern Illinois, powerful enough that it cracked and dented cars’ windshields, according to a Facebook post from the Fulton County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.
In Sangamon County, about 78 miles southeast, several businesses were “basically destroyed,” Sheriff Jack Campbell told CNN, and anywhere from 30 to 40 homes were damaged around Sherman, less than 10 miles north of Springfield. More than 100,000 customers were in the dark across Illinois Friday night, according to poweroutage.us.
The latest round of severe weather comes a week after powerful storms pummeled the Southeast and killed at least 26 people. An overnight tornado also leveled nearly the entire community of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where estimated maximum winds of 170 mph roared.
Meteorologists issue rare warning
The Storm Prediction Center earlier on Friday issued a Level 5 out of 5 “high risk” for severe weather – the highest risk level there is when it comes to severe storms – for two regions. One region stretches from parts of eastern Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee and northern Mississippi while another includes parts of southeastern Iowa, northwestern Illinois, and northeastern Missouri and Iowa City in Iowa.
The last time a Level 5 high risk was issued was on March 25, 2021, when powerful storms and tornadoes killed at least six people and ripped apart communities in the Southeast.
Along with the series of twisters, Friday’s storm system began dumping heavy rain in parts of the South and Midwest Friday night that could lead to flash flooding and drop “very large hail,” the National Weather Service said.
“The danger remains high, especially across middle Tennessee, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi and northern Illinois,” CNN Meteorologist Gene Norman said. “We’re especially concerned about Nashville and Chicago. Whenever there are storms at night, it is more dangerous, and these storms are moving very quickly, leaving people little time to get to safety once they hear about a warning.”
“So everyone in the threat zone should charge their cell phones and pay attention to weather alerts,” Norman added.
Nearly 30 million threatened by tornadoes
More than 27 million people were under tornado watches late Friday evening.
A particularly dangerous tornado watch was also in effect for northwestern Alabama, northern Mississippi and western and central Tennessee, including for the city of Nashville until 1 a.m. CDT, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The tornadoes that develop could have an EF-2 or higher intensity, with destructive winds of more than 111 mph, the center said. And the storms could include baseball-sized hail.
A tornado watch was also in effect for east-central Illinois, central Indiana and western Kentucky, including the cities of Indianapolis and Louisville, until 2 a.m. CDT, according to the prediction center. Those storms could include intense tornadoes, powerful wind gusts and up to golf ball-sized hail.
A reported tornado near Ottumwa, Iowa, Friday afternoon, caused structural damage but has no injuries were immediately reported, local emergency management officials said.
A possible tornado was seen Friday evening passing a local TV station’s stationary camera in Solon, Iowa, blowing debris up in the air.
“Our roof just got lifted off,” KCRG Chief Meteorologist Joe Winters told viewers, referring to the building the camera was mounted on. Seconds later, a roof from another building was seen blowing into the air.
“That’s how quick it happens,” Winters said. “That’s why when warnings are issued, you need to take them seriously and get into a safe place immediately.”
A tornado watch was also in effect for Northern Illinois, Northwest Indiana, Southern Wisconsin and Lake Michigan until 10 p.m. CDT, according to the Storm Prediction Center.