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At least 5 killed, dozens hospitalized after tornadoes in at least 7 states

'Everything happened in like five seconds'
Posted at 7:32 PM, Mar 31, 2023

Devastating storms and tornadoes scraped the South and Midwest Friday into early Saturday, killing at least five people, injuring dozens more, trapping others in their homes, and damaging businesses and critical infrastructure -- with the threat of more severe weather looming into Saturday afternoon.

More than 50 preliminary tornado reports were recorded Friday in at least seven states, including in Arkansas, where storms killed three people -- two in the small city of Wynne and another person in North Little Rock, local officials said.

Two people were killed in Indiana by a storm Friday night that damaged homes and a volunteer fire department near Sullivan, a city about a 95-mile drive southwest of Indianapolis, State Police Sgt. Matt Ames said.

At least 50 people were sent to hospitals in Arkansas' Pulaski County, where a tornado roared through the Little Rock area Friday, county spokesperson Madeline Roberts said. Five others were hospitalized after a tornado touched down Friday in Covington, Tennessee, according to a spokesperson for Baptist Memorial Health Care. Roads were left impassable.

Preliminary informationshows at least 22 tornadoes were reported in Illinois, eight in Iowa, four in Tennessee, five in Wisconsin and a couple in Mississippi.

In Arkansas, at least a dozen tornadoes were reported, including in the Little Rock area. Twisters in Arkansas left homes nearly leveled, and roads were covered with what once was the roofs and walls of buildings.

William Williams, who told CNN affiliate KATV he's an employee at a Kroger supermarket in Little Rock, said he's "thankful to be alive" after a tornado rolled near the area while he was working Friday afternoon. He'd taken shelter inside the store, and went outside afterward to see people injured, including a woman he said had a severe leg injury.

"Everything happened in like five seconds. It came -- boom," Williams told KATV. "You could hear a lot of commotion and stuff. ... I go outside, and it is crazy. People had blood all over their faces. ... I'm just thankful that I'm alive."

About 100 miles east of Little Rock, the city of Wynne was "basically cut in half by damage from east to west," Mayor Jennifer Hobbs told CNN Friday evening.

"We are still in triage mode," Hobbs said, adding that crews were trying to determine the severity of the damage and any potential injuries.

Some houses in Wynne -- home to about 8,000 residents -- were completely crushed into piles of wood while others had their roofs ripped off, exposing the interiors of homes littered with storm debris, drone footage provided to CNN by Ray Sharp show. Many trees toppled, making what appears to be residential roads impassable and damaging structures.

Friday's severe storms came a week after severe weather walloped the Southeast and killed at least 26 people. An overnight tornado, which makes people most prone to extensive damages, leveled much of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where estimated maximum winds of 170 mph roared.

Theater roof crumbles amid storms

In northern Illinois, more than 200 people were inside the Apollo Theatre in Belvidere for an event when its roof collapsed Friday night, leaving one person dead and dozens injured, the city fire chief said. The collapse came as a line of storms packing 50 mph winds and dumping hail moved through the area, according to officials and the National Weather Service. It wasn't immediately clear whether the storm caused the theater's roof to crumble.

Twenty-eight people were taken to hospitals because of the collapse, Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said.

Meanwhile in Indiana, the storm ripped through Sullivan County, trapping a local official's wife inside their home until their son rescued her.

Jim Pirtle, the emergency management director for the county, told CNN his house and many others were destroyed Friday night.

"I called (my wife) 45 minutes before it hit. I told her, 'Robin, you need to go somewhere.' We don't have a basement," Pirtle said. "I was on the phone with her and she was crying, 'Jim, I love you' and it started tearing the house apart.

"We got hit bad," Pirtle said speaking by phone from Florida, adding he was working with emergency officials remotely.

"I'm not sure about fatalities yet," he added. "We still got people missing."

Houses in Sullivan, a city home to about 4,000 residents, multiple houses were severely damaged due to the storm, Mayor Clint Lamb said.

"We need all citizens to stay safe and stay put," Lamb said in a Facebook post overnight. "First responders need clear streets so they can tend to affected areas. Please pray for the Sullivan families and public safety personnel."

Howard, Johnson and Sullivan counties have been hit hard by storms, according to meteorologist Andrew White with the Indianapolis Office of the National Weather Service.

However, the damage in Howard County was minor and reported no injuries, according to emergency management director Janice Hart.

More tornadoes could be on the way

Tornadoes were still possible in southeastern Indiana, western Ohio and northern Kentucky on Saturday morning, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The area, which includes the cities of Dayton and Cincinnati, was under a tornado watch that warned of wind gusts up to 70 mph along with large hail.

A tornado watch is also in effect for central to northeast Alabama -- including Birmingham -- and northwest Georgia through 8 a.m. CT, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Saturday morning, about 70 million people are under a slight risk of severe weather -- a Level 2 of 5 -- in parts of the Ohio Valley, the Northeast, including New York City and Philadelphia, and parts of the Southeast, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Storms across the Southeast are expected to remain strong to severe through Saturday afternoon, but these storms should push offshore by the evening.

A round of severe storms including damaging winds is expected to ramp up across portions of the Northeast in the afternoon through the evening. These storms could affect some of the big Northeast cities, including Philadelphia, New York, and Boston in the evening.

On Friday, large hail proved to be dangerous when it bombarded northern Illinois, cracking and denting cars' windshields, according to a Facebook post from the Fulton County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.

About 78 miles southeast of there, several businesses were "basically destroyed," Sheriff Jack Campbell told CNN, and up to 40 homes were damaged around Sherman, less than 10 miles north of Springfield.

More than 450,000 homes and businesses were in the dark early Saturday across Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee, with about one-third of the outages reported in Indiana, according to thetracking website PowerOutage.us.

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency, noting the state will "spare no resource" in responding and recovering from the storm and activated the state's National Guard.