Tornado updates: At least 21 dead, dozens injured across 6 states

Written by on May 17, 2024

Heather Paul via Getty Images

(ARKANSAS) — At least 18 people are dead across six states and dozens have been hospitalized after a tornado outbreak moved through the Midwest and South on Friday night, according to local officials and The Associated Press.

Dozens of tornadoes were reported across Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin, but the exact number of confirmed tornadoes has yet to be verified. More than 28 million people across the South and Midwest were under a tornado watch going into Friday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Of the 18 people who have died, five were in Arkansas, three died in Indiana, one died in Illinois, one died in Alabama and one died in Mississippi, local officials told ABC News. Adamsville, Tennessee, Mayor David Leckner told The Associated Press that seven people have died in McNairy County.

There were 57 tornado reports across a huge area spanning seven states over the past 24 hours. The number of tornado reports continues to rise as of Saturday morning, as the storm threat is ongoing.

Arkansas

At least one person died and more than 50 people across Pulaski County, Arkansas, have been hospitalized, with that number expected to rise, Madeline Roberts, a spokeswoman for the county’s emergency management agency, told ABC News. She did not have information on the conditions of those who have been injured.

Four people have been pronounced dead in the northeastern Arkansas city of Wynne, which took a direct hit from a tornado. Miles Kimble, the coroner of neighboring St. Francis County, who was assisting in Wynne, confirmed the death toll to ABC News.

A tornado emergency had been issued for metro Little Rock, Arkansas, on Friday afternoon, due to the threat of a damaging tornado and quarter-sized hail.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said 24 people have been hospitalized, and that he’s “not aware of any fatalities in Little Rock at this time.”

“Property damage is extensive and we are still responding,” he tweeted.

According to Scott, 2,100 residents were impacted in western and southern Little Rock and between 27,000 to 30,000 homes are without power on Saturday.

“Many folks have been displaced and looking for a shelter. We’re working towards that, again, if someone’s in need of shelter, we’re asking you to go to Hall High School,” Scott said.

Capt. Jacob Lear-Sadowsky with the Little Rock Fire Department told ABC News earlier that there were a “significant” number of injuries from the storm.

One hospital in the area told ABC News that it’s on standby for a potential “influx of patients” but didn’t have a number of those admitted yet.

Damage is centered in West Little Rock, where “multiple structures,” both commercial and residential, have been destroyed, Lear-Sadowsky said. Power lines and trees are also downed and cars have been flipped over due to the storm.

The city of Little Rock urged on Twitter that residents should “remain in their homes” so emergency personnel can get to work.

As the powerful supercell moved eastward, a “confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado” was located around 5:13 p.m. local time near Earle, Arkansas, west of Memphis, the NWS said, calling it a “life-threatening situation.” A “catastrophic” tornado also moved through the metro area of Little Rock, Arkansas, the NWS confirmed.

Significant damage is being reported in nearby Wynne, Arkansas, located roughly 50 miles west of Memphis. The city’s mayor, Jennifer Hobbs, told ABC News they have experienced “major damage” and that she believes people are trapped but could not estimate a number.

“We’re still trying to get crews out and make sure we don’t have people trapped and continue to assess the damage,” Hobbs said, adding that the tornado split the city of more than 8,000 people in half.

“We had no idea that it would be this much damage that we’re seeing right now at this point,” Latricia Woodruff, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management, told ABC News Live Prime on Friday about the tornado activity in the state. “There’s a lot of homes that have been damaged, other structures. We heard about a fire station here in Little Rock that had some damage to it, as well.”

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency due to Friday’s severe weather and activated the National Guard to assist state and local law enforcement. She said there was “significant damage” in central Arkansas due to the storm.

“Arkansans must continue to stay weather aware as storms are continuing to move through,” Sanders tweeted.

Sanders spoke with President Joe Biden on Saturday, saying Biden and Homeland Security have “offered a tremendous amount of support.”

“Anything that Arkansas needs, they have assured us that those resources will be here and on the ground,” she said during a press conference Saturday.

1 dead after roof of Illinois theater collapses

In Illinois, a 50-year-old man died after a roof collapse at the Apollo Theater in Belvidere, officials said, and at least 28 more were transported to the hospital.

Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle could not immediately confirm the cause of the roof’s collapse but said officials were notified by the National Weather Service of a tornado warning at 7:45 p.m. local time. The roof collapsed about 10 minutes later, he said.

The tornado emergencies come as rare high-risk tornado warnings were issued Friday for parts of six states — Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee — as a major storm leaves millions in the Heartland at risk for severe weather, including potentially violent, long-track tornadoes.

In Crawford County, three people died after a residential structure they were in collapsed, a state official told ABC News.

Bidens visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, hit by storms last weekend

Among those at risk for tornadoes was an area that was hit by deadly storms last weekend. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited one of those locations — Rolling Fork, Mississippi — on Friday.

“Jill and I are here to show our support,” Biden said during remarks in the town on Friday, standing amid the destruction. “I know there’s a lot of pain and it’s hard to believe in a moment like this, this community’s going to be rebuilt, and rebuilt back better than it was before.”

Nearly two dozen people were killed in the storms.

Indiana: Sullivan ‘like a war zone’
The mayor of Sullivan, Indiana, said midday Saturday that about 200 structures in Sullivan County were severely damaged, calling it “mass devastation,” as search-and-rescue efforts were ongoing after Friday’s severe weather.

“What this looks like, is a war zone,” Mayor Clint Lamb said during a press briefing.

An area south of the county seat of about 4,000 “is essentially unrecognizable right now,” Lamb said earlier.

Saturday forecast as storm system moves into Northeast

The storm system moves into the Northeast on Saturday with some severe weather possible for Pennsylvania and upstate New York and even northern New Jersey.

A severe thunderstorm watch has been issued for parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York until 6 p.m. ET for nearly 10 million people, with damaging winds up to 70 mph being the biggest threat. Large hail up to 1.5 inches and an isolated tornado are also possible, according to meteorologists.

The wind threat was upgraded for Saturday into the evening, with all New York City boroughs, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at an enhanced risk for damaging wind.

There is a wintry part to the storm, with blizzard warnings issued for South Dakota and Minnesota, where more than half a foot of snow and 45 mph wind gusts are possible. Whiteout conditions are expected.  A winter storm warning stretches from Nebraska to Minneapolis and into Wisconsin and Michigan, where more than a foot of snow is possible.

ABC News’ Will McDuffie, Jianna Cousin, Matt Foster, Robinson Perez and Kenton Gewecke contributed to this report.

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