Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Five people dead, dozens injured after tornadoes roar through Arkansas on Friday

by Bill Bowden, Grant Lancaster, Paige Eichkorn | April 1, 2023 at 9:04 a.m.
Responders check through storm damage Friday in the Walnut Valley area of west Little Rock after a tornado ripped through, tossing vehicles and trees and damaging buildings. More photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Suspected tornadoes tore through central and eastern Arkansas on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring dozens.

Cross County Coroner Eli Long said that after midnight there were four confirmed fatalities in Wynne. A fifth person was reported dead in North Little Rock by the Pulaski County coroner's office. 

"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 and keep moving," Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a news conference in Little Rock Friday night. "We will help our neighbors. We will ensure that every Arkansan who needs assistance has it. Our message and our mission is really simple: The people come first and the paperwork will come second."

The tornado that hit Central Arkansas destroyed buildings, flipped vehicles and uprooted trees Friday afternoon as it ripped a path through west Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville.

Another suspected tornado leveled much of Wynne later in the afternoon.

There's "total destruction throughout the town," Wynne Police Chief Richard Dennis told WMC Action 5 News, the NBC television outlet in Memphis. He said dozens of people were trapped.

Wynne High School was destroyed, said Superintendent Kenneth Moore.

[DOCUMENT: Read Sanders' emergency declaration »]

Colby Pope, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock, said it was definitely a tornado that hit Pulaski County. He said another tornado may have touched down earlier Friday near the Garland County communities of Piney and Fountain Lake.

Pope said the severity of the tornadoes won't be determined for a few days.

By Friday night, the storms had left about 75,000 Arkansans without electricity, including 50,000 in Pulaski County.

Sanders declared a state of emergency and activated 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard to provide traffic control and help clear roads.

At a news conference, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said about 30 people were injured and in hospitals after the storm.

"We are rapidly working toward all health and safety efforts at this moment," Scott said. "God will prevail, as always."

Little Rock firefighters jumped to action Friday afternoon, responding to overturned vehicles, structure damage, downed power lines and gas leaks, Fire Chief Delphone Hubbard said at the news conference.

Fire Station No. 9, at 1324 N. Shackleford Road, was heavily damaged, Hubbard said, somewhat hindering the ability of the firefighters at the station to respond. That station still served as a shelter-in-place location for many in the community, he said.

Assistant Police Chief Andre Dyer said officers would patrol the affected areas to ensure that people are safe and that no would-be thieves attempt to take advantage of the chaos.

He estimated 21,000 residents were in the area affected by the storm, although he declined to identify the specific areas hardest hit.

Chief Heath Helton was out of town on vacation, a police spokesman said earlier in the week.

Because of the high degree of damage, the risk of downed power lines and gas leaks, and the possibility of crime, police would largely be barring people from returning to the affected areas of town Friday night, Dyer said.

"You have to allow the process to take place," Dyer said. "Do us a favor and stay out of the area unless it is absolutely necessary."

The city of Little Rock announced it had set up a temporary emergency shelter for displaced residents at Hall High School, 6700 H St. On Friday night, Rock Region Metro was providing shuttle service to the shelter from affected neighborhoods.


In the Kingwood neighborhood in west Little Rock, Martin McAvoy said he and his wife were listening to the sirens when they heard another, louder sound.

"My wife had just looked out the window, and she said, 'Oh, my God.' And she just flew over that bed, and she pushed me down in the closet," he said. "And I pulled the door to, and everything just ... burst. Windows burst out. I mean, it was a vacuum. I had to hold the closet doors shut."

He said the storm uprooted trees as far as he could see.

Cindy Mattison, who lives on Breckenridge Drive, said, "It sounded just like a freight train, and I thought, 'Oh crud.'"

The wind ripped siding from the front of her house, exposing pink insulation foam. Her windows were shattered. Trees were down.

"But we're safe," she said.

Will Varner, 43, of Little Rock, was in his Toyota Prius in the parking lot of McDonald's at 10201 N. Rodney Parham Road when the weather took a turn Friday afternoon.

"All of a sudden it got really windy and really loud," he said. "It sounded like I was inside a car wash. You could see all this debris flying through the air. Branches and sticks start whacking my car, and something hit the side of my mirror [and] broke it. As I'm there, I see what looked like part of McDonald's roof go flying off over Rodney Parham and into the road. It was pretty scary for a second. It was bouncing the car around. I don't know if the tornado went directly over me or if it went beside me. I never saw a funnel cloud or anything."

Annette Blanton, an employee of Rock City Running in the Colony West Shopping Center, took shelter in the store.

"It blew your ears up," she said. "You know when your ears pop when you're coming down from an airplane? It was worse than that. It was a weird, like, hollow."

In Sherwood, Teresa Bridgeforth, a new partner with Ambitious Girl Avenue off Kiehl Avenue, was working on her space for a spa room when she heard the front door blow open even though it was locked.

"By the time I turn my back, all those windows start blowing out, and it blew us down the hall, I bust my knee open, my back hurt, my heels -- it was bad," she said.

Ambitious Girl Avenue is part of the Ambitious Girls Inc. nonprofit. It provides a mentoring program for teenage girls and teaches them how to sew, cook, and respect one another, Bridgeforth said.

Bridgeforth is also the owner of Lavish Nails across the street. She said her nail technicians had just left the shop, which is now "a disaster."

The storm also blew the window out of her truck, she said.

"Materials and stuff, that can be replaced, but I'm so glad that we're still here," she added. "Me and my husband, we hurt, but we goin' to the ER later, because I know it's gonna be packed. There was a lot of people up that way screaming 'help' and stuff."


North Little Rock police spokeswoman Sgt. Amy Cooper said the Amboy and Indian Hills neighborhoods along with Burns Park were the most affected by Friday's storms.

She said there were some injuries, but she didn't know the extent of them.

The North Little Rock Community Center at 2700 Willow St. opened as an emergency shelter for those affected by the storms.

North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick said Burns Park looked like a "big giant man took a weeder and chopped trees off for miles at a time."

Hartwick spoke at Burns Park to let the city know that all crews -- sanitation, street police, fire department and park rangers -- are all "on deck."

Ryan Wilson, the city's electric general manager said transmission and distribution lines were entangled in and around the Indian Hills area.

He estimated 15,000 customers were without power and will be for the next few days.

"It's going to be a significant outage, multiple days," Wilson said.

The North Little Rock School District dismissed students early on Friday "due to the prediction of inclement weather and out of an abundance of caution," the district posted in social media.

Because of the bad weather on Friday, the district canceled a hiring fair that had been scheduled for today at the North Little Rock High School auditorium.


Kevin Jumper, a justice of the peace in Cross County, said the storm cut through "the entire heart of the town."

His son, who lives on the east side of Wynne, "lost everything," said Jumper.

The justice of the peace's home remained standing Friday evening, but he said the structure was completely damaged, as were many surrounding homes.

"My neighborhood is devastated," he said.

Jumper and his family took cover in their basement during the worst of the severe weather. Over a dozen of their neighbors sheltered with them, he said.

According to the justice of the peace, several neighbors who didn't shelter in his basement had to be "extracted" from other structures.

"They're hurt but alive," he said.

A couple of coaches' families were underneath one of the Wynn School District's old gyms when the tornado struck, but are OK, said Moore, the superintendent.

He said the front of the district's intermediate school was also damaged.

Moore said the school district was opening up its junior high gym for anyone who needs shelter.

Wynne First Assembly is also offering a place for people to come if needed, Jumper said. The church still has power, he said.

Wynne Mayor Jennifer Hobbs said city officials were still assessing damage. Mobile medical centers were being set up near the city on Friday.

Messages left with the Wynne Police Department and Cross County sheriff's office weren't immediately returned.


Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin warned Arkansans to be careful of post-storm rebuilding scams and price gouging.

"First, we pray for the victims of today's severe weather across our state," Griffin said in a news release. "I encourage Arkansas families to make sure their priority is ensuring they are safe tonight. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people will already be preying upon our neighbors with offers of quick repair jobs. Arkansans should call their insurance company first and not be pressured into paying a quick deposit to a person who will take off with their money just as quickly."

Following Sanders' emergency declaration, the state's anti-price gouging law went into effect. Act 376 of 1997 prohibits businesses from price gouging during a state of emergency, according to the news release.

The law prohibits businesses from charging more than 10% above the pre-disaster price of goods or services, such as food and water, fuel, blankets, medicine, flashlights, batteries and construction materials.

Daniel McFadin, Josh Snyder, Celia Storey, Sean Clancy, Cynthia Howell, Remington Miller and Will Langhorne of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this report.

This story has been updated from it's original version with new information. 

  photo  Firefighters carry a woman out of her condo Friday in Little Rock after her complex was damaged by a tornado. In addition to the fatalities, dozens of people suffered injuries in the storm. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

  photo  A woman collects belongings from a family member’s home on Oakview Drive in North Little Rock after the roof was ripped off by Friday’s tornado. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

  photo  Destruction was widespread in this neighborhood in the Walnut Valley area of west Little Rock after Friday’s powerful storm struck. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

  photo  Storm path

  photo  Sam Perez shows the downed tree at his home on Oakview Drive in North Little Rock. Perez said he was getting his dog inside, but, “I was unable to open the door because the pressure and the tree fell probably just a few inches from me.” (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

  photo  Three trees lie across the wall of an apartment complex on Cantrell Road in Little Rock as firefighter Brandon Cravens helps check on residents. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

  photo  A team from Summit Energy prays together Friday before investigating a broken gas line in Cammack Village after the tornado swept through the area near the Arkansas River. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

  photo  An aerial photo shows the damage to homes on East Kiehl Avenue in Sherwood on Friday after the tornado passed through. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

  photo  This apartment complex on Cantrell Road was severely damaged Friday by the tornado. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

  photo  People look over the damage to homes on Northgate Drive in Sherwood on Friday after the tornado. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

 Gallery: Pulaski County tornado damage


Sponsor Content