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At Least 21 Dead After Tornadoes Rake US Midwest, South

Written by on April 2, 2023

Storms that dropped possibly dozens of tornadoes killed at least 21 people in small towns and big cities across the South and Midwest, tearing a path through the Arkansas capital, collapsing the roof of a packed concert venue in Illinois, and stunning people throughout the region Saturday with the damage’s scope.

Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least eight states destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees, and laid waste to neighborhoods across a broad swath of the country. The dead included seven in one Tennessee county, four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, three in Sullivan, Indiana, and four in Illinois.

Other deaths from the storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama and Mississippi, along with one near Little Rock, Arkansas, where city officials said more than 2,600 buildings were in a tornado’s path.

Stunned residents of Wynne, a community of about 8,000 people 80 kilometers west of Memphis, Tennessee, woke Saturday to find the high school’s roof shredded and its windows blown out. Huge trees lay on the ground, their stumps reduced to nubs. Broken walls, windows and roofs pocked homes and businesses.

Debris lay scattered inside the damaged shells of homes and strewn on lawns: clothing, insulation, roofing paper, toys, splintered furniture, a pickup truck with its windows shattered.

Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in a small bathroom as a tornado passed, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead.” A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but no one in the family was hurt.

“We could feel the house shaking, we could hear loud noises, dishes rattling. And then it just got calm,” she said.

Recovery was underway on Saturday, with workers using chain saws to cut fallen trees and bulldozers moving material from shattered structures. Utility trucks worked to restore power.

At least seven people died in Tennessee’s McNairy County, east of Memphis along the Mississippi border, said David Leckner, the mayor of Adamsville.

“The majority of the damage has been done to homes and residential areas,” Leckner said, adding that although it appeared all people were accounted for, crews were going door to door to be sure.

In Belvidere, Illinois, some of the 260 people attending a heavy metal concert at the Apollo Theatre pulled a 50-year-old man from the rubble after part of the roof collapsed; he was dead when emergency workers arrived. Officials said 40 other people were injured, including two with life-threatening injuries.

“They dragged someone out from the rubble, and I sat with him and I held his hand and I was (telling him), ‘It’s going to be OK.’ I didn’t really know much else what to do,” concertgoer Gabrielle Lewellyn told WTVO-TV.

Crews worked Saturday to clean up around the Apollo, with forklifts pulling away loosely hanging bricks. Business owners picked up shards of glass and covered shattered windows.

Across and down the street from the Apollo stood a mural with an oversized black-and-white photograph of schoolchildren battling strong winds and rain after an especially violent tornado ravaged the rural town on April 21, 1967, killing 24.

In Crawford County, Illinois, three people were killed and eight others injured after a tornado hit around New Hebron, Bill Burke, the county board chair, said.

Sheriff Bill Rutan said 60 to 100 families were displaced.

“We’ve had emergency crews digging people out of their basements because the house is collapsed on top of them, but luckily they had that safe space to go to,” Rutan said at a news conference.

Illinois state Rep. Adam Niemerg called the tornado “catastrophic.”

That tornado was not far from where three people were killed in Indiana’s Sullivan County, about 150 kilometers southwest of Indianapolis.

Sullivan City Mayor Clint Lamb said at a news conference that an area south of the county seat of about 4,000 “is essentially unrecognizable right now” and that several people were rescued from rubble overnight. There were reports of as many as 12 people injured, he said, and search-and-rescue teams combed damaged areas.

“Quite frankly, I’m really, really shocked there isn’t more as far as human issues,” he said, adding that recovery “is going to be a very long process.”

In the Little Rock area, at least one person was killed and more than 50 were hurt, some critically, authorities said.

The National Weather Service said the tornado had wind speeds up to 265 kph and a path as long as 40 kilometers.

Masoud Shahed-Ghaznavi was having lunch at home when the tornado roared through his neighborhood. He hid in his laundry room as sheetrock fell on his head and windows shattered. When he emerged, the house was mostly rubble.

“I see everything around me is sky,” Shahed-Ghaznavi recalled. He barely slept Friday night.

“When I closed my eyes, I couldn’t sleep, imagined I was here,” he said Saturday outside his home.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to help local responders.

A suspected tornado killed a woman in northern Alabama’s Madison County, said county official Mac McCutcheon. And in northern Mississippi’s Pontotoc County, officials confirmed one death and four injuries.

The storms struck just hours after President Joe Biden visited the Mississippi community of Rolling Fork, where tornadoes last week destroyed parts of town.

Tornadoes also caused damage in eastern Iowa, and broke windows on cars and buildings northeast of Peoria, Illinois.

 

Associated Press


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