A monster storm system tore through southern and midwest US on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that shredded homes and shopping centres in Arkansas and collapsed a theatre roof during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.
Authorities said one person was killed and 28 people injured after the roof of the Apollo Theater collapsed during a tornado in the town of Belvidere, about 70 miles (113km) north-west of Chicago.
The Belvidere fire department chief, Shawn Schadle, said 260 people were in the venue at the time. He said first responders also rescued someone from an elevator and had to grapple with downed power lines outside the theatre.
The town’s police chief, Shane Woody, described the scene after the collapse as “chaos, absolute chaos”.
At least one person was killed and more than two dozen were hurt, some critically, in and around the Arkansas capital, Little Rock. The town of Wynne in north-eastern Arkansas was also devastated, and officials reported two dead there, along with destroyed homes and people trapped in the debris.
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 85 million people.
The destructive weather came as the 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 neighbourhoods in the western part of the city and shredded a small shopping centre. 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.
Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock officials told KATV in the afternoon that 21 people had checked in there with tornado-caused injuries, including five in critical condition.
The mayor, Frank Scott Jr, who announced that he was requesting assistance from the national guard, tweeted in the evening that property damage was extensive and “we are still responding”.
The governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, activated 100 members of the Arkansas national guard to help local authorities respond to the damage throughout the state.
About 50 miles west of Memphis, Tennessee, the small city of Wynne, Arkansas, saw “widespread damage” from a tornado, Sanders confirmed.
City council member Lisa Powell Carter said Wynne 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. “Wynne is so demolished … There’s houses destroyed, trees down on streets.”
Tornadoes continued spawning and touching down in the area into the night.
The police department in the western Tennessee city of Covington said on Facebook that the city was impassable after power lines and trees fell on roads when the storm passed through Friday evening. Authorities in Tipton county, north of Memphis, said a tornado appeared to have touched down near the middle school in Covington and in other locations in the rural county.
Tornadoes moved through parts of eastern Iowa, with sporadic damage to buildings. Images showed at least one flattened barn and some houses with roofing and siding ripped off.
One tornado veered just west of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, which cancelled a watch party at an on-campus arena for the women’s basketball Final Four game. Video from KCRG-TV showed toppled power poles and roofs ripped off an apartment building in the suburb of Coralville and significantly damaged homes in the city of Hills.
Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.
In neighboring Oklahoma, wind gusts of up to 60mph (96km/h) fuelled fast-moving grass fires. People were urged to evacuate homes in far north-east Oklahoma City and troopers shut down portions of Interstate 35.
In Illinois, more than 109,000 customers had lost power as of Friday night. More outages were reported in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
At Chicago’s O’Hare international airport, a traffic management program was put into effect that caused arriving planes to be delayed by nearly two hours on average, WFLD-TV reported.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center had forecast an unusually large outbreak of thunderstorms with the potential to cause hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could move for long distances over the ground.
Meteorologists said conditions on Friday were similar to those a week ago that unleashed the devastating twister that killed at least 21 people and damaged about 2,000 homes in Mississippi.
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