Residents across a wide swath of the South and Midwest on Sunday (April 2) raced to assess the destruction wreaked by storms that dropped possibly dozens of tornadoes and killed at least 29 people in small towns and big cities, as severe weather moved into parts of the Northeast.
Earlier storms tore a path through the Arkansas capital, collapsing the roof of a packed concert venue in Illinois and stunning people throughout the region Saturday with the damage’s scope.
“That means that there is now assistance from the federal government to support the incredible efforts that are already underway from the state and the local communities,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in Little Rock, Arkansas, after visiting some of the hardest hit areas.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders had already declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. At least five people were killed in her state.
Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in 11 states destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees and laid waste to neighborhoods. It could take days to make a count of all the tornadoes from recent days.
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday that a tornado was responsible for storm damage near Bridgeville, Delaware, where severe weather prompted warnings and damaged numerous homes and shut down roads. One person was found dead inside a house heavily damaged by the storm Saturday night, Delaware State Police reported.
At least one other tornado was confirmed, while weather service teams were looking into how many more might have touched down.
The dead also included at least nine in one Tennessee county, five in Indiana and four in Illinois.
Other deaths from the storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama and Mississippi.
Residents of Wynne, Arkansas, a community of about 8,000 people 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, woke Saturday to find the high school’s roof shredded and its windows blown out. Huge trees lay on the ground, their stumps reduced to nubs. At least four people died.
Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in a small bathroom as a tornado passed, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead.” A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but they were unhurt.
Chainsaws buzzed, as bulldozers plowed into debris. Utility crews restored power as some neighborhoods began recovery.
Nine people died in Tennessee’s McNairy County, east of Memphis, according to Patrick Sheehan, director the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee drove to the county Saturday to tour the destruction and comfort residents. He said the storm capped the “worst” week of his time as governor, coming days after a school shooting in Nashville that killed six people including a family friend whose funeral he and his wife, Maria, attended earlier in the day.
“It’s terrible what has happened in this community, this county, this state,” Lee said. “But it looks like your community has done what Tennessean communities do, and that is rally and respond.”
Jeffrey Day said he called his daughter after seeing on the news that their community of Adamsville was being hit. Huddled in a closet with her 2-year-old son as the storm passed over, she answered the phone screaming.
“She kept asking me, ‘What do I do, daddy?’” Day said, tearing up. “I didn’t know what to say.”
After the storm passed, his daughter crawled out of her destroyed home and drove to nearby family.
In Memphis, police spokesman Christopher Williams said via email late Saturday that there were three deaths believed to be weather-related: two children and an adult who died when a tree fell on a house.
Tennessee officials warned that the same weather conditions from Friday night are expected to return Tuesday.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday traveled to Belvidere to visit the Apollo Theatre, which partially collapsed as about 260 people were attending a heavy metal concert. A 50-year-old man was pulled from the rubble; he later died.
The governor said 48 others were treated in hospitals, with five in critical condition.
Pritzker planned to travel later to Crawford County, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) south of Chicago, where three people were killed and eight injured when a tornado hit around New Hebron.
“We’ve had emergency crews digging people out of their basements because the house is collapsed on top of them, but luckily they had that safe space to go to,” Sheriff Bill Rutan said at a news conference.
That tornado was not far from where three people died in Indiana’s Sullivan County, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
Several people were rescued overnight, with reports of as many as 12 people injured.
“I’m really, really shocked there isn’t more as far as human issues,” said Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb, adding that recovery “is going to be a very long process.”
In the Little Rock area, at least one person was killed and more than 50 were hurt, some critically. The National Weather Service said that tornado was a high-end EF3 twister with wind speeds up to 165 mph (265 kph) and a path as long as 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Masoud Shahed-Ghaznavi was lunching at home when it roared through his neighborhood, causing him to hide in the laundry room as sheetrock fell and windows shattered. When he emerged, the house was mostly rubble.
“Everything around me is sky,” he recalled Saturday.
Another suspected tornado killed a woman in northern Alabama’s Madison County, officials said, and in northern Mississippi’s Pontotoc County, authorities confirmed one death and four injuries.
The storms struck just hours after Biden visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where tornadoes last week destroyed parts of town.
The sprawling storm system also brought wildfires to the southern Plains, with authorities in Oklahoma reporting nearly 100 of them Friday. At least 32 people were said to be injured, and more than 40 homes destroyed.
DeMillo reported from Little Rock. Associated Press writers around the country contributed to this report, including Kimberlee Kruesi in Adamsville, Tennessee, Harm Venhuizen in Belvidere, Illinois, Corey Williams in Detroit and Ron Todt in Philadelphia.
Adrian Sainz And Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press