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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At least 27 killed as tornadoes tear through the Midwest and South


The aftermath of a tornado strike in Sullivan, Ind. on Saturday, April 1, 2023.

By Gwen Moritz, McKenna Oxenden, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Mike Ives


Communities in at least seven states on Saturday began assessing destruction left by a powerful storm system Friday that spawned ferocious tornadoes, killing at least 27 people and causing a roof at a packed venue in Illinois to collapse — the second such deadly outbreak of severe weather in the region in a week.


Fatalities were reported in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, authorities said Saturday, with Tennessee accounting for 10 deaths.


Officials said five people died in Arkansas, including an unidentified man in North Little Rock and four in Wynne, about 100 miles to the east, in separate tornadoes.


Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas and Mayor Frank Scott Jr. of Little Rock said at a news conference Saturday morning that they had been in touch with President Joe Biden, who offered federal resources. The governor already declared a state of emergency Friday, triggering access to statewide assistance, including the National Guard.


“We ask that everyone be patient as we work to respond as quickly as possible,” Scott said as he stood outside a fire station that had been mangled by the tornado.


In Wynne, Mayor Jennifer Hobbs told CNN that the town had been “cut in half by damage from east to west.” A junior high school had been opened for people seeking shelter and food.


On Friday night in northern Illinois, a 50-year-old man was killed and 40 others were injured after the roof collapsed at a theater in Belvidere with 260 people inside, the Boone County emergency managing director, Dan Zaccard, told reporters at a news conference Saturday morning.


At least two people had life-threatening injuries, according to Dr. Matt Smetana, medical director for Boone County.


Concertgoers helped rescue people from the rubble, officials said, including the man who died. Footage on social media appeared to show patrons at the venue, the Apollo Theatre, trying to find people beneath the debris.


In addition to the man killed in Belvidere, three people were killed in Crawford County after a “residential structure” collapsed, according to Alicia Tate-Nadeau, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.


About 200 miles south, in the village of Sherman, Illinois, more than a dozen homes were significantly damaged, Mayor Trevor J. Clatfelter said by phone Friday night. The storm, he said, had also caused major gas leaks, electricity outages and downed power poles across the village.


Roughly 150 miles to the east of Sherman, in Sullivan County, Indiana, three people were also killed after a tornado, according to Sgt. Matt Ames of the Indiana State Police.


Two other people were found dead at a severely damaged campground at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Owen County, Indiana, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The department identified the couple as Brett Kincaid, 53, and Wendy Kincaid, 47, both of Rossville, Indiana.


Nine people died in McNairy County, Tennessee, said Maggie Hannan, communications director for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. In Tipton County, Tennessee, a 31-year-old man died after a tornado destroyed his home, picked him up and threw him onto a field about 100 yards away, Sheriff Shannon Beasley said.


At least one person was killed and four others were injured in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, which is about 110 miles southeast of Memphis, Tennessee, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.


Near Huntsville, Alabama, Ovie Lasater, 90, died inside her home after it was destroyed by a tornado, said Don Webster, a spokesperson with Huntsville Emergency Medical Services. At least three other people were taken to the hospital, two with critical injuries.


In Delaware, one person died in Sussex County at a “collapsed structure,” county officials said on Facebook.


In Covington, Tennessee, six people were hospitalized after a tornado in the city, said Kimberly Alexander, a spokesperson for Baptist Memorial Hospital. On Facebook, the Covington Police Department described the city as “impassable.”


As of Saturday afternoon, more than 400,000 customers across five states were without power, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities across the country.


In Little Rock, the noises of machinery used to clear debris and whirring chain saws were constant. Although most of the roads were passable, traffic was slow as traffic signals were out while widespread power failures persisted.


Hadidi Oriental Rug has been a fixture in Little Rock for more than 30 years, and Saturday morning, its owner, David Hadidi, wandered around the store, surveying the damage.


Rocks and glass littered the showroom floor, lit by the bright sunlight shining through gaping holes in the roof. Some of the rugs would have to be thrown away.


“Insurance says you can’t sell rugs with glass, no matter how much you clean them,” Hadidi said.


In Indian Hills, a neighborhood in North Little Rock, about a dozen homes appeared to have been damaged, including the home of Mildred Loy, 95, who said she had nearly been crushed when a tree fell through her roof.


Loy said that her caregiver had scooped her off the sofa and moved her to the hallway, where she climbed on top of Loy to protect her. “As she laid down, we heard boom,” Loy said. “It crashed right where I was sitting.”


Meteorologists at the weather service office in Little Rock had to move to a tornado shelter Friday afternoon, as it became clear that their office was in the tornado’s path.


Footage on social media appeared to show a large tornado touching down in Sigourney, a town of about 2,000 people about 70 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Other images from the region appeared to show buildings torn apart and upturned cars.


Manny Galvez, a resident of Coralville, Iowa, a city about 20 miles south of Cedar Rapids, said he had hunkered in his basement just before 5 p.m.


“That was terrifying,” Galvez said in a phone interview.


Parts of Mississippi were devastated last week by tornadoes that left at least 26 people dead. Biden on Friday visited Rolling Fork, the Mississippi community hit hardest by those tornadoes.

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