A powerful storm system tore through several states in the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning multiple tornadoes that caused widespread destruction and tragic loss of life. In Arkansas, at least one person was killed and over two dozen were injured, some critically, as tornadoes ripped through homes and shopping centers in Little Rock and the town of Wayne. The roof of a theater collapsed during a heavy metal concert in Belvidere, Illinois, causing injuries. Multiple tornadoes were also reported in Iowa, while wind-driven grass fires raged in Oklahoma. The storm system threatened a wide swath of home to about 85 million people.
The Little Rock tornado first tore through neighborhoods on the city’s west side, ripping apart a small shopping center that included a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding towns, causing extensive damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles. Officials confirmed the death of one person in North Little Rock, and the town of Wayne was left devastated with two people reported dead and destroyed homes.
In the evening, the Polaski County officials confirmed the death in North Little Rock but did not immediately provide details. At Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock, 21 people were treated for injuries from the storm, including five in critical condition. The property damage was extensive, and the mayor requested assistance from the National Guard.
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders activated 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard to help local authorities deal with the statewide disaster. Outside a guitar center, five people were caught on video pointing their phones at the sky while spinning, but they eventually took shelter inside the store for about 15 minutes as the storm passed. The power went out, and they used the flashlight on their phones to look. The devastation was extensive, and city authorities imposed a curfew from 10 pm to 6 am.
The tornadoes swept through parts of eastern Iowa, causing sporadic damage to buildings, and photos showed at least one flattened barn and some houses with roofs and siding ripped off. A storm hit just west of Iowa City, canceling a watch party on campus for the women’s basketball Final Four game. Downed power poles and roofs tore apart an apartment building in the suburb of Coralville, and homes in the city of Hills were heavily damaged.
The storm system caused tragedy and devastation, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Our thoughts are with those who were affected by the tornadoes, and we hope that the communities affected can begin to recover and rebuild in the days and weeks to come.