Tornado slams Little Rock, shattering rooftops and flipping vehicles: NPR
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A tornado ripped through Little Rock and the surrounding area on Friday, smashing through homes, overturning vehicles and throwing trees and debris onto roads as people rushed for cover. The city’s main trauma center said it was expecting at least 15 to 20 patients.
The tornado first passed through neighborhoods in western Little Rock and tore through a small shopping center that included a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River to North Little Rock and surrounding towns, where extensive damage was reported to homes, businesses and vehicles.
The University of Arkansas Medical Center for Medical Sciences in Little Rock was operating at a mass casualty level, spokesperson Leslie Taylor said. Several people had already been transported to the medical center, but an exact count was not immediately available.
Mark Hulsey, special projects manager for Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock, said at least one person was in critical condition.
Resident Niki Scott took refuge in the bathroom after her husband called to say a tornado was heading her way. She could hear shards of glass as the tornado roared past, and emerged afterwards to find that her house was one of the few on her street that did not have a fallen tree on it.
“It’s like everyone says. It got really quiet and then it got really loud,” Scott said afterward, as chainsaws roared and sirens sounded in the area.
The Little Rock Fire Department reported heavy damage and debris in the west end of town, saying on its Facebook page that firefighters were carrying out rescue operations in the area.
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency and said there was “significant damage” in the central part of the state.
“Praying for all who were and remain in the path of this storm,” she wrote on Twitter. “Arkansans must continue to watch out for the weather as the storms continue to move.”
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced he was requesting assistance from the National Guard.
“Please stay off the roads and away from affected areas to allow emergency responders to work,” Scott tweeted.
More than 350,000 people were at risk from what the National Weather Service called a “confirmed large and destructive tornado.”
Passengers and airport workers at Clinton National Airport took refuge in restrooms and were ordered to remain there until 3:45 p.m. Aerial footage showed several roofs had been torn from homes of Little Rock and nearby Benton.
Nearly 70,000 Arkansas customers were out of power by the afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.
About 32,000 people were without power in neighboring Oklahoma, where gusts of wind between 50 and 60 mph fueled fast-moving grass fires. People were told to evacuate homes in far northeast Oklahoma City, and soldiers closed portions of Interstate 35 near the suburb of Edmond.
Other outages were reported in Kansas, Missouri and Texas.
Dylan Dodson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Des Moines, said there were two confirmed tornadoes Friday afternoon in eastern Iowa, but it was too early to estimate their size or the extent of the damage they had caused. Poweshiek County sheriff’s deputies said one landed in an empty field and no injuries were reported.
“We have reports of areas that have sustained damage, but in terms of severity, it’s still too early to tell,” Dodson said.
In Illinois, Ben Wagner, chief radar operator for the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency, said hail shattered the windows of cars and buildings in the Roanoke area, northeast of Peoria.
On Friday, massive storms slammed into at least 15 states across the Midwestern and southern United States. Mississippi.
Millions of people are subject to severe weather advisories
More than 85 million people were under weather advisories as the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center predicted an unusually large outbreak of thunderstorms that could bring hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could move across long distances above the ground.
The area most at risk for storms on Friday follows much of the Mississippi River from Wisconsin to the Mississippi, with rare high-risk advisories centered around Memphis; and between Davenport, Iowa, and Quincy, Illinois and surrounding areas.
Forecasters have issued tornado watches over the two high-risk regions through Friday evening, with the weather service expecting numerous tornadoes and calling it a “particularly dangerous situation”.
In total, Friday afternoon tornado watches issued by the National Weather Service cover most of Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa; western Illinois; and parts of Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.
Such “intense supercell thunderstorms” are only expected to become more common, especially in southern states, as temperatures rise around the world.
Besides Little Rock, major population centers at high risk for storms beginning Friday afternoon included Chicago; Saint Louis; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“There will be lots of thunderstorms … tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail,” said Victor Gensini, a northern Illinois meteorology professor and tornado expert.
Forecasters warned of a “relatively rare and significant threat of severe weather” around Chicago that could include high winds, tornadoes and large hail.
In Iowa City, the University of Iowa canceled Friday’s watch party for fans who planned to gather for the women’s basketball Final Four game against South Carolina.
Friday’s storms come days after a devastating tornado in Mississippi
Last Friday night, a vicious tornado in Mississippi killed at least 21 people, injured dozens and flattened entire blocks as it blazed a path of destruction for more than an hour. About 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
The toll was particularly high in Sharkey County, western Mississippi, where 13 people were killed in a county of 3,700. Winds of up to 200mph (322kph) swept through the rural farming town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping cars and toppling the town’s water tower.
Gensini said Friday’s atmospheric pattern is similar to conditions that were present during the killer Mississippi storm.
The dangerous forecast is the result of strong southerly winds carrying large amounts of moisture from the northern Gulf of Mexico, where they will interact with the strengthening storm system.
In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem ordered the offices of the state’s executive branch closed Friday in parts of the state as freezing rain, snow and high winds were expected. Many counties were under blizzard or ice storm warnings.
The weather service is predicting another batch of intense storms next Tuesday in the same general area as last week. At least the first 10 days of April will be tough, Accuweather meteorologist Brandon Buckingham said earlier this week.