Deadly tornadoes produce catastrophic damage across Midwest, South, Mid-Atlantic

Several large and destructive tornadoes tore through multiple states in the South and Midwest on Friday, prompting several tornado emergencies and the evacuation of one National Weather Service office.

At least 25 fatalities have been reported across seven states as of Sunday morning, according to NBC News. Ten people were killed by Friday's storms storms in Tennessee, along with five in Arkansas, and one in both Alabama and Mississippi. On Saturday, one person in Delaware was killed due to a house collapse following intense thunderstorms.

Four deaths were reported in Illinois, including one in Belvidere, located about 70 miles to the northwest of Chicago, and 28 injuries were reported due to a partial building collapse, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency told AccuWeather. Local news outlets said the incident happened during a sold-out concert at the town's Apollo Theater. The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado impacted the area of the theater. Survey crew found preliminary EF 1 tornado damage associated with the tornado.

Three deaths were reported in Indiana following tornadic storms. The city of Sullivan, located in southwestern Indiana, was pummeled by a tornado late Friday night with many homes sustaining severe damage, the town's mayor, Clint Lamb, said. Lamb confirmed the three fatalities on Saturday morning, noting over 200 buildings had been damaged in the area.

The tornadoes were part of a larger system that wreaked havoc from Arkansas to Iowa and Illinois and moved into Tennessee by the evening. Nearly 60 preliminary tornado reports were sent to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. The following day, damaging straight line winds swept across much of the East Coast, extending from Ohio to New Jersey.

A preliminary low end EF 4 tornado caused extensive damage in Keokuk County, Iowa, on Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado tracked from Wapello County to Johnson County, Iowa, with estimated winds around 170 mph.

Photos from the damage in Little Rock, Arkansas, showed downed trees, flipped cars and a handful of damaged buildings. One photo showed the gutted insides of a store, the roof torn from the structure and the insulation strewn across the remaining debris. One fatality was reported in the Little Rock area, according to Chris May, a news anchor for KATV.

The National Weather Service survey team in Little Rock confirmed high end EF 3 damage from Friday afternoon's tornado. The survey team estimated peak winds of 165 mph with a path length between 20 and 25 miles long.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., posted over Twitter Friday evening that at least 24 people were hospitalized due to the storm. Earlier that day, a spokesperson for the Baptist Health Medical Centers in Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas, had said that the hospitals were treating 21 people for injuries suffered in the large tornado that tore through the city, five of whom were in critical condition.

Meteorologists at the NWS office in Little Rock moved to a tornado shelter on Friday when it became evident the tornado was approaching. The office in Memphis took over issuing warnings for the area and monitoring the weather in their place.

Little Rock resident Jeff Turk was at work when he heard on the news a wall cloud formed nearby. "It came so fast...I got up off my desk, grabbed my wallet, grabbed my phone and went downstairs. Two minutes later I heard the train and I felt the ear suck out of the room and I threw myself under a door," Turk told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell. When Turk opened the door after experiencing the storm, he saw complete devastation. "There was just like a smoke bomb had gone off."

The interior of a store was damaged after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Arkansas, Friday, March 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

The tornado that tore through Little Rock was a part of one of the four tornado emergencies to be issued Friday evening. These alerts are typically reserved for rare situations when a severe threat to human life is imminent or ongoing, catastrophic damage is imminent or ongoing and reliable sources confirm a tornado, according to the National Weather Service.

The burst of these rare alerts comes a week after four tornado emergencies were issued in Mississippi amid a dangerous tornado outbreak that killed at least 23 people across the South and spawned an EF4 tornado near the town of Rolling Fork.

As of March 31, there have been 15 tornado emergencies in 2023, according to AccuWeather Senior Weather Editor Jesse Ferrell. In comparison, the first tornado emergency issued in 2022 didn't come until April 5.

The other three tornado emergencies issued in Friday's severe weather outbreak traveled with a storm near Wynne, Arkansas, that moved into Tennessee.

Late Friday night, at least four deaths were confirmed in Wynne, WJTV reported, citing Cross County Coroner Eli Long. Dozens of people sustained injuries in the city, which is located about 40 miles west of Memphis.

"Widespread damage in Wynne. I've been in touch with local officials for updates and to direct state resources. Please follow the direction of local authorities," Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

A state of emergency was declared Friday afternoon ahead of the tornado in Wynne, and the Arkansas National Guard was activated shortly after.

Wynne city officials said the area experienced "a severe tornado," and search and rescue operations were underway.

Storms in northern Alabama left one woman dead and three others seriously injured Saturday morning. In Madison County, along the Alabama-Tennessee border, a local coroner confirmed that a woman was killed Saturday morning when a storm impacted her home, according to News 19. She was pronounced dead shortly after 4 a.m., local time. Madison County Commission Chairman Mac Mccutcheon reported that there were five injuries in total, with two people treated on scene and three others transported to a hospital in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency told WCBI News that one person died and four others were injured in a tornado that hit Pontotoc, Mississippi, early Saturday morning.

AccuWeather meteorologists had highlighted two "extreme" risk zones for Friday's severe weather, the first of which stretched from Little Rock, Arkansas, to the east of Memphis. This area also covered Wynne, which sits roughly 40 miles west of Memphis.

AccuWeather has four severe risk categories, ranging from some (which is the lowest threat level) to extreme (the highest threat). While AccuWeather forecasters have issued extreme risk categories before, they are few and far between, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda.

The second "extreme" risk zone issued by AccuWeather stretched from far northeastern Missouri to northwestern Illinois.

At least two tornadoes were reported in Illinois on Friday afternoon, one of which was spotted near Eureka, about 17 miles northeast of Peoria. The second was spotted in Pleasant Plains in Sangamon County, west of Springfield.

The NWS Storm Prediction Center counted over two dozen preliminary tornado reports Friday across Arkansas, Tennessee, Iowa and Illinois.

AccuWeather digital journalists Kevin Byrne and Thomas Leffler contributed to this report.

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