LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas: Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest killed at least 10 people, shredded homes and shopping centers, and collapsed a theater roof during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.
Emergency responders across the region counted the dead and surveyed the damage Saturday morning after tornadoes touched down into the night, part of a sprawling storm system that also brought wildfires to the southern Plains and blizzard conditions to the Upper Midwest.
The dead included four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, Cross County Coroner Eli Long told KAIT-TV. Other deaths were reported in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana and the Little Rock area.
Authorities said a theatre roof collapsed during a tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, killing one person and injuring 28, five of them severely. The Belvidere Police Department said the collapse occurred as a heavy storm rolled through the area and that calls began coming from the theatre at 7:48pm. It said that an initial assessment was that a tornado had caused the damage.
The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theatre during a heavy metal concert in the town located about 70 miles (113 kilometres) northwest of Chicago.
Belvidere Fire Department Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue. He said first responders also rescued someone from an elevator and had to grapple with downed power lines outside the theatre.
Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody described the scene after the collapse as “chaos, absolute chaos.”
Gabrielle Lewellyn had just entered the theatre when a portion of the ceiling collapsed.
“I was there within a minute before it came down,” she told WTVO-TV. “The winds, when I was walking up to the building, it went like from zero to a thousand within five seconds.”
Some people rushed to lift the collapsed portion of the ceiling and pull people out of the rubble, said Lewellyn, who wasn’t hurt.
“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.”
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 some 85 million people.
The destructive weather came as 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 that included a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding cities, where widespread damage was reported to homes, businesses and vehicles.