Tornado recovery begins in Arkansas, emergency declared, 5 found dead

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LITTLE ROCK - Shortly after dawn Saturday, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. stood at an intersection with a wooden utility pole hanging in a tangle of lines behind him, but, he said the recovery from the large tornado that ripped through west Little Rock Friday afternoon was well underway.

Scott said no one died in Little Rock, where a tornado spawned from a fast-moving supercell tore across the west side of the city, overturning vehicles, downing power lines and trees and slamming into homes and businesses.

Shortly after 6 p.m Friday., the supercell that cut across Arkansas spawned a deadly tornado in Wynne near West Memphis, where fatalities were reported.

In a Saturday morning news conference Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there are five confirmed storm-related deaths in Wynne.

"We know by the grace of God this time, as always, that no one has experienced a fatality here in the city of Little Rock," Scott said. "We're still assessing damage across western portions of Little Rock as well as some portions of southwest Little Rock. We'll start with recovery efforts this morning."

A house is damaged by fallen trees on West Hurlbut Avenue near where the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed during a tornado, Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Belvidere, Ill.  Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue. Responders also rescued someone from an elevator and had to deal with downed power lines outside the theater.

Public works crews responded Saturday morning, clearing streets of trees and debris left behind by the storm.

"We know that Little Rock residents will get through this devastating tornado's impact not only on the state's capital city, central Arkansas as well as our brothers and sisters from Wynne," Scott said.

About 100 Arkansas National Guard soldiers have been deployed to help rescue and recovery efforts.

Scott spoke in a news conference with Sanders and Little Rock officials late Friday.

A fire station was also hit by the tornado in west Little Rock. Firefighters set up a triage to help injured people.

Standing in front of a west Little Rock fire station #9 at 1324 N. Shackleford Road that was hit by the tornado Friday, Sanders on Saturday morning praised the firefighters who were busy helping others when the twister hit.

"Little Rock obviously suffered serious damage over the course of the last 24 hours," Sanders said. Steel frames from the fire station were behind her as she spoke.

"Certainly the fire station behind us has suffered just an unbelievable amount of damage. But I think the real story here is not the damage that happened but the heroes that were born out of the tragedy," Sanders said. "And the fact that we have firefighters who, despite the fact that they had a tornado literally coming through their station, were worried about their community. It tells you who they are and it tells you I think a lot about our state."

A map from city of Little Rock officials released Friday night shows a swath of destruction across the city from a tornado that hit Friday afternoon, March 31, 2023.
A map from city of Little Rock officials released Friday night shows a swath of destruction across the city from a tornado that hit Friday afternoon, March 31, 2023.

"We've all experienced a devastating tornado which has created a state of emergency for the city of Little Rock, central Arkansas and the entire state," Scott said. "It grieves the heart to see that many residents are now displaced across the city due to this tornado. We want to assure the public that your first responders are going above and beyond to ensure public safety, health and welfare."

Sanders signed an executive order declaring an emergency in Arkansas.

"Here at the Capitol I just signed an executive order declaring that a state of emergency exists in the state of Arkansas due to today's severe weather," Sanders said Friday. "We will spare no resource to assist with response and recovery efforts for Arkansans impacted.

Scott said, "We want to send a message to the residents that we are here for you, we understand what is going on and we are rapidly working toward all health and safety efforts in this particular moment. And please know that we've got your back and we are here for you. And we also, most importantly, are praying for all those who are impacted by this tornado. We know that God will prevail."

Up to 70,000 power outages were reported in Pulaski County at one time.

In the Friday night news conference in Little Rock, Sanders thanked Scott in a "very difficult time for our city,"

"Today has been a very hard day for the state of Arkansas. But the goodness of this is that Arkansas, and Arkansans are tough and we are resilient. And no matter what comes our way we will get back up the next day," Sanders said.

She said state and local officials are working closely together.

"We will help our neighbors and make sure every Arkansan who needs assistance has it," Sanders said. "Our message is very simple. The people come first and the paperwork second."

She also praised first responders.

"They have done an absolutely amazing job," Sanders said. "Any time that you have a tragedy like this I don't think you can emotionally be prepared, but certainly in terms of coordination with state and local officials and partners across the state, that has been a seamless process, and we expect that to continue in the course of the coming days."

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Tornado recovery begins in Arkansas, emergency declared, 5 found dead