At least 32 people have been killed after a slew of tornadoes tore through parts of the southern and midwestern US in recent days, leaving immense destruction and debris in its path, according to officials.
A monster storm system struck at least eight states over the weekend, prompting at least 50 preliminary reports of tornadoes. The states affected include Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Delaware and Alabama.
Home to 85 million people, the affected area saw at least 900,000 places without power after the storms began tearing through Friday evening.
On Sunday morning, Joe Biden announced the approval of an expedited major disaster declaration to quickly provide federal assistance to Arkansas. The president also announced that federal organizations are working closely with Indiana and other impacted states as the storms’ widespread damage remains under assessment.
“We … stand ready to respond to any additional requests for federal assistance,” said Biden, adding, “There’s nothing we can do to heal the hole left in the hearts of far too many families who lost loved ones this weekend, but we will be there every step of the way as they rebuild and recover.”
Tennessee, one of the hardest-hit states, had nine deaths related to the weather, according to the Memphis-based news channel WREG. A tornado there twisted trees, flattened homes into piles of wooden boards and ripped walls from still-standing structures.
“The whole house, you can feel it shaking,” said Janice Pieterick, whose house doors and glass windows blew out when the tornado swept through the state’s Lewis county. “We just all hunkered down.”
The deaths blamed on the storm system also included at least 17 across Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama in the south, Indiana and Illinois in the midwest, and Delaware in the mid-Atlantic. The storm system left dozens injured.
As of Sunday morning, residents in mid-Atlantic states are experiencing the highest number of power outages in the country, peaking at well over 200,000 customers without power, according to PowerOutage.us. Meanwhile, the Great Lake states including Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota have close to 110,000 customers without electricity.
In Sullivan, Indiana, a small city home to about 4,000 residents, the storms have wreaked havoc and “severe damage” to several houses. On Saturday, Sullivan’s mayor, Clint Lamb, confirmed a tornado touchdown, writing on Facebook: “We need all citizens to stay safe and stay put. Multiple houses have experienced severe damage. First responders need clear streets so they can tend to affected areas.”
Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, has declared a state of emergency and called for an “all hands on deck effort” during an address in Sullivan. Images posted online show the city leveled with destroyed cars and buildings, as well as debris everywhere.
In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds has issued a disaster proclamation for 12 counties in eastern Iowa. On Friday, twin tornadoes were captured on camera as they tore through the state’s Keokuk county where at least nine homes were destroyed.
Meanwhile, in Belvidere, Illinois, the roof of a concert hall theater collapsed onto 260 people who were attending a heavy metal concert during the storm. A 50-year-old man was killed while 28 others were injured, including five who had serious injuries, according to fire officials who spoke to NBC.
TV footage showed emergency personnel carrying out injured concert-goers on stretchers, while video posted on social media showed waist-high rubble on the floor of the venue and a gaping hole in the roof.
The National Weather Service on Saturday reported a “severe weather event” across north-eastern Illinois and north-western Indiana prompted scattered large hail, widespread wind damage and multiple tornadoes.
In Arkansas, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency, pledging to “spare no resource to assist with response and recovery efforts for Arkansans impacted”.
In the state’s north-eastern town of Wynne over the weekend, the storm destroyed a local high school, shredding its roof and breaking its windows.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole lifetime in Arkansas,” Wynne high school assistant principal Mark Griffin told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “It’s hard to see and it’s hard to know because we don’t have a lot of communication with people. Cell service is sketchy, so we’re just worried about a lot of people and all we can do is do what we can do for right now and try to start getting things back in order and safe for people to walk around.”
In Tennessee, a half-mile-wide tornado which tore through Wayne and Lewis counties on Friday traveled about 38 miles in as many minutes packing wind speeds of 130 mph, the Tennessean newspaper reported.
Following destruction from the storm which destroyed dozens of houses as well as a post office, volunteer efforts were being set up across the state Sunday to help clean up debris.
During a visit to Mississippi on Friday to survey the storm damage from a tornado a week earlier that killed 21 people, Biden promised to help residents rebuild. Speaking to reporters near an animal shelter and a destroyed hardware store in Rolling Fork, the president said, “We’re not just here for today. … We’re going to get it done for you.”
He added that the federal government planned to cover the total cost of the state’s emergency measure for the next 30 days. The measures include overtime for first responders and debris cleanup, the Associated Press reported.
The mid-Atlantic state of Delaware suffered one fatality from a “collapsed structure” in Sussex county on Saturday evening, according to the county’s emergency operations centre, while several other states in the area remained under high wind warnings.
“Maximum wind gusts could approach 60mph (100 km/h) throughout much of the Appalachians, upper Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic today,” the National Weather System warned.
Tornadoes are common in the US, especially in the centre and south of the country.
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