NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A large tornado hit Friday afternoon near Little Rock, Ark. forced to evacuate.
The tornado, which prompted Arkansas governor to declare a state of emergency, was part of a complex and dangerous storm system that was beginning to hit the Upper Midwest and South, forecasters said. Tornado watches were still in effect Friday evening for parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Footage from the Little Rock area showed debris and damage to homes from the tornado, which Frank Scott Jr., the mayor, described the damage as “extensive.” He said on Twitter that at least 24 people were hospitalized but that the city was not aware of any fatalities.
In addition to the tornado emergency for parts of Little Rock, forecasters have also declared a state of emergency for parts of nearby Sherwood and Jacksonville, Ark. Nearly 90,000 customers were without power in Arkansas Friday night. according to PowerOutage.uswhich collects data from utilities across the country.
Joshua Cook, a spokesperson for CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, said the hospital’s emergency department saw a “large number of people with injuries,” but he knew the severity.
Baptist Health’s medical centers in Little Rock and North Little Rock were already treating a total of 21 patients — five of whom were in critical condition — said Cara Wade, a spokeswoman early Friday night. The two hospitals expected a wave of additional patients.
Leslie Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said at least one trauma patient has been taken to the hospital. “We are prepared and ready to receive people,” Ms Taylor said.
In Indian Hills, a middle-class neighborhood in North Little Rock, about a dozen homes appeared to be damaged, including the home of 95-year-old Mildred Loy, who said she was nearly crushed when a tree fell through her roof.
Ms. Loy said her carer got her off the couch and into the hallway, where she climbed on top of Ms. Loy to protect her. “When she laid down, we heard boom,” Ms. Loy said. “It crashed right where I was sitting.”
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service office in Little Rock had to move to a tornado shelter Friday afternoon when it became clear their office was in the tornado’s path. The Weather Service’s Memphis office planned to issue warnings and monitor the weather on their behalf, said Desiree Meadows, a Memphis meteorologist. In the aftermath of the tornado, another tornado warning was issued for the Little Rock area.
Stephanie Carruthers, a manager of Trio’s restaurant in Little Rock’s Pavilion in the Park mall, said about 25 employees and customers safely survived the storm in the kitchen.
“It blew over so quickly,” Mrs. Carruthers said. “It started to rain really hard, so we all ran into the kitchen. I turned around and the front doors just exploded.
Fire department officials in the Little Rock area said search and rescue teams were on the scene, checking houses door-to-door for injured residents.
“It doesn’t seem like there are many right now,” said Captain Dustin Free, a spokesman for the North Little Rock Fire Department. But, he added, the situation was still very volatile.
Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Md., said the agency had recorded at least half a dozen tornado reports from southeastern Iowa to northwestern Illinois on Friday.
Images posted on social media seemed like a big tornado landed in Sigourney, a town of about 2,000 people about 70 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Other images from the region seemed to show torn buildings And inverted cars.
Manny Galvez, a resident of Coralville, a town about 20 miles south of Cedar Rapids, said he ducked into his basement just before 5 p.m. about 40 minutes later to find nearby houses ripped apart and trucks flipped over.
A series of thunderstorms, ranging from strong to severe, stretched Friday night from Little Rock and Memphis to southwestern Arkansas and eastern Texas, he said, adding that some of those storms could spawn tornadoes.
Up to and including Friday evening, damaging wind gusts and very large hail were expected in the region. the storm forecast center of the weather service said. Widespread and damaging thunderstorms are likely, and flash flooding is also possible, forecasters said.
“Keep in mind that these storms will move quickly today,” said Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center. “So if you find yourself in someone’s path, be prepared to take shelter immediately.”
The storms were expected to move east through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, where they were expected to bring damaging winds, large hail and could spawn strong tornadoes.
Tornado Watches were issued Friday afternoon and warned that early evening conditions favored “numerous” strong tornadoes, including a few intense tornadoes, hail as large as 3 inches in diameter and widespread damaging wind gusts of up to 70 mph. In the evening, additional tornado watches were posted for parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee until 1 a.m. Central Time and areas of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan until 3 a.m. Eastern Time.
A steady stream of tornado warnings, signaling an imminent threat of a tornado, began around 2 p.m. Central Time.
Forecasters had warned that the storms could hit an area stretching from Louisiana to Wisconsin, including Little Rock, Memphis, St. Louis, Des Moines, Chicago and other major cities. Much of the Mississippi Valley likely had “at least a few long-stretched, strong to potentially violent tornadoes,” the Forecast Center said.
The storms could hit parts of Mississippi that were devastated last week by tornadoes that left at least 26 dead.
President Biden visited on Friday Rolling fork, the Mississippi community hardest hit by last week’s tornadoes. Tornadoes killed 13 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and in surrounding Sharkey County.
Reporting contributed by Derrick Bryson Taylor And John Keefe.