Recovery efforts were underway Saturday in central Arkansas and Wynne after tornadoes plowed through the state on Friday, killing five people and injuring dozens.
Four fatalities were reported in Wynne and one in North Little Rock.
The twisters were part of a strong storm front that moved through middle America Friday and Saturday.
ABC News reported late Saturday that 60 locations in eight states had reported tornado damage since Friday afternoon, resulting in at least 21 deaths. Besides Arkansas, fatalities were reported in Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana and Alabama.
The National Weather Service said there were more than 800 reports of tornadoes, damaging winds and hail on Friday. Most reports were from Iowa to Arkansas eastward through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys.
More than 50 people were injured in Little Rock and about 2,648 structures were damaged, according to the city.
Twenty-eight people went to a Wynne hospital for medical treatment.
On Friday night, about 75,000 Arkansans were without electricity, including about 50,000 in Pulaski County, utilities reported.
By late Saturday afternoon, the outages had been reduced to 31,556, with 28,388 of those being in Pulaski County and 2,943 in Cross County, where Wynne is located.
The weather service confirmed high-end EF3 damage in Little Rock from Friday’s tornado. EF3 tornadoes have maximum winds of 165 miles per hour. It was apparently the strongest tornado to hit the capital city since 1999.
On the Enhanced Fujita Scale, EF3 is categorized as “severe” — just below EF4, which is categorized as “devastating.”
While many homes in Pulaski County had roof or wall damage, some were destroyed, with only concrete steps and foundations remaining.
“The tornado tracked from west Little Rock through North Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville (all in Pulaski County) before finally weakening on the south side of Cabot (Lonoke County),” the weather service posted on its website at weather.gov/lzk/svr0323a.htm. “This is from a preliminary damage survey, with the tornado assigned an EF3 rating/peak wind 165 mph (so far).”
The weather service described it as a nightmare in Central Arkansas.
“A supercell (storm with rotating updrafts) showed signs of becoming tornadic from northern Pike County into southwest Saline County during the early afternoon,” according to the website. “In fact, there was a funnel cloud reported near Pearcy (Garland County) at 118 pm CDT.
“As the storm closed in on the Little Rock area, a Tornado Warning was issued at 203 pm CDT. It went downhill from there. A tornado quickly spun up and began causing destruction about two miles west-northwest of the intersection of Interstates 430 and 630. When it was clear the situation was becoming catastrophic/life threatening, a Tornado Emergency was posted at 228 pm CDT.”
By 2:40 p.m. Friday, the storm was near Jacksonville. Two hours later, around 4:45 p.m., a new supercell was closing in on Wynne.
Joe Goudsward, a meteorologist with the weather service’s North Little Rock office, said five people from his office were surveying the storm damage in Pulaski County on Saturday.
He said they also had reports of possible tornadoes in Garland and Clark counties.
“We have numerous storms to check out,” said Goudsward. “We just don’t have anyone to go down there right now.”
He said it may take a week before all of the damage is assessed.
On its website, the weather service said there were “at least a few tornadoes” in Arkansas on Friday.
“A few supercells rotated for more than 100 miles,” according to the weather service. “Storm surveys in the coming days will determine how many tornadoes occurred and their intensity.”
Goudsward said Friday’s tornado appeared to be the strongest one to hit Little Rock since Jan. 21, 1999, when an F3 tornado caused considerable damage. An F3 tornado, on the old rating scale, would have winds from 158 to 206 miles per hour.
Andy Chiuppi, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Memphis office, said they hadn’t put an estimate on the severity of the suspected tornado that hit Wynne.
“It’ll probably be a multiday survey,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of damage.”
Chiuppi said winds were still strong Saturday, and that could hamper efforts to do an aerial survey. He said the area was getting 20-mph sustained winds Saturday with gusts up to 35 mph.
“The back side of this trough is still moving through,” he said.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency on Friday and activated 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard to provide traffic control and help clear roads.
Sanders spent much of the day Saturday touring damaged neighborhoods, starting in Little Rock and followed by stops in North Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville.
She spoke with President Joe Biden by telephone Saturday morning about the tornadoes.
“The President expressed his support for the people of Arkansas and emphasized that the federal government stands ready to assist,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. “Governor Sanders thanked the President for the close coordination of his team and for the Administration’s commitment to aiding response and recovery efforts across central Arkansas and in Wynne. The governor told the president that Arkansans are resilient people and would rebuild stronger than before.”
Biden also called Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the city.
The president pledged federal support for Little Rock, according to a news release from the city.
Scott will declare a state of emergency in the city, the initial step toward receiving federal and state disaster aid, according to the release. (Pulaski County declared a state of emergency on Friday.)
Scott joined Sanders on Saturday to survey some of the hardest-hit areas and visit with affected residents, as did representatives from the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management.
“Yesterday, a catastrophic storm tore through our neighborhoods, injuring dozens and damaging thousands of structures,” said Scott. “It was a heartbreaking day for our community, but we are exceedingly grateful there is no reported loss of life.
“Less than 24 hours after the storm, as I walked through ravaged neighborhoods, I heard from courageous, resilient survivors who will recover and rebuild. I’ve never had more faith and confidence in the strength of our community than I do today. We are Little Rock strong.”
Donations are being accepted through the Little Rock Cares Emergency Relief Fund, according to the news release. Tax-exempt donations to the fund will be used to support those affected by the tornado. People can donate through the city’s website, littlerock.gov.
The city is accepting donations of water and nonperishable food items at the Little Rock Fire Training Academy, 7000 Murray Drive. Donations are accepted daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Volunteers seeking to assist in recovery and cleanup efforts are encouraged to sign up at littlerock.gov/volunteer.
As of Saturday afternoon, all streets in Little Rock were clear to traffic, according to the release.
Police and fire personnel were working overtime across the city, with additional staff allocated to the disaster areas.
An emergency shelter has been opened by the American Red Cross at Calvary Baptist Church, 5700 Cantrell Road.
Rock Region Metro is offering free bus rides throughout the weekend.
Free meals are being provided at Wolfe Street Center, 1015 Louisiana St.
At a news conference on Saturday, Scott said at least 2,100 residents in west and southwest Little Rock were affected by the storm.
“It’s by the grace of God that no one has been impacted with fatality,” he said. “Many folks have been displaced and are looking for a shelter.”
Baptist Health had seven patients hospitalized with injuries from the storm, with four of those in an intensive care unit as of 4 p.m. Saturday Baptist Health spokeswoman Cara Wade said.
There were three patients receiving trauma care at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center in Little Rock, UAMS spokeswoman Andrea Peel said. The hospital has downgraded its mass casualty alert and is back to normal operations, she said.
Joshua Cook, a spokesman for CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, said the hospital “experienced high volumes,” Friday, but had no patients with life-threatening injuries from the tornado.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK
North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick said the storm mostly struck residential areas in that city. He estimated it damaged more than 500 homes.
The storm in North Little Rock moved northeast from Burns Park, tearing a path 5 to 6 miles long and roughly 400 yards wide. More than 10,000 homes were still without power, said Hartwick.
With most of the streets in North Little Rock reopened on Saturday, Hartwick said the city would focus on restoring power in the coming days. He noted the city had lost around 100 utility poles.
“There’s a lot of cleanup,” he said. “It’s not going to be a week or two, it’s going to be months.”
On Saturday, Hartwick issued a curfew for a number of areas of the city.
The areas under the curfew include Burns Park, Sierra Madre, Amboy, Ranch Estates, Foxboro, Alta Vista, Donovan Briley Road area, Oakview, Remount Road, the Kierre Road area, Cobbleston, Indian Hills, Shady Valley and Windsor Valley.
The curfew will be in effect from 8 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Monday.
Some people are exempted from the curfew, including — but not limited to — government employees performing official duties, medical personnel performing official duties, and credentialed members of the media.
While North Little Rock School District buildings saw no structural damage, Amboy Elementary School and Indian Hills Elementary School were without power on Saturday, said Gregory J. Pilewski, superintendent of schools, in a news release.
“At this time, we are not certain when power will be restored to those campuses,” he said.
The city of North Little Rock is directing donations to First Assembly of God at 4501 Burrow Drive, according to the municipality’s website.
As of Saturday, the city was asking only for donations of work gloves, five-gallon buckets with lids, flashlights and batteries, sunscreen, large lawn and leaf bags, new tarps, rakes, brooms and dust pans.
Arkansas Foodbank is accepting bottled water and “shelf stable snack items” at Dickey-Stephens Park at 400 W Broadway, said the city website.
Those looking to volunteer in North Little Rock should go to the volunteer staging area at the Edwards Cash Saver at 3801 Camp Robinson Road, according to the website.
In Sherwood, Mayor Mary Jo Heye-Townsell said most residents received notice of storms and were able to take shelter and avoid injury.
As of Saturday afternoon, the mayor was unsure of how many homes were damaged but said some were complete losses. She noted the storm appeared to move in a “bouncing motion” rather than tearing a straight path through the city.
Roughly half of the city was without power. Since the storm hit, community members, volunteer organizations and churches have banded together to help residents and clear roads, she said.
“As soon as the sun came up this morning, there were crews out everywhere,” said Heye-Townsell.
In Jacksonville, the storm tore a path just under 3 miles long, impacting homes, businesses and churches, Mayor Jeff Elmore said on Saturday afternoon.
While Elmore was unsure of how many people were injured, he said the city had completed two searches of affected areas on Friday and a third on Saturday.
Several homes were total losses. All roads in the city were passable on Saturday thanks to help from volunteers, said the mayor.
He said First Baptist Church at 401 N 1st St. in Jacksonville is being used as a shelter.
Pulaski County’s Office of Emergency Management reported on Saturday there were no missing persons at the time as a result of the storms.
Outside of city limits, storms had downed trees in an unincorporated area of Pulaski County on Colonel Glenn Road, said Madeline Roberts, spokesperson for the county.
In the coming days, Roberts said the county would help clear debris, coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and work to provide housing for those affected by the storms.
Pulaski County has not released information on the person killed Friday in North Little Rock. Matt Baldwin, deputy coroner, said on Saturday he expected officials to release more information on Monday.
Cross County Judge Lynn Blake said four people died in and around Wynne from Friday’s storm. Cross County Coroner Eli Long reported that same number of fatalities.
However, in a statement Saturday afternoon, Wynne Mayor Jennifer Hobbs said that “the extent of the damage is unknown and the number of casualties has not been determined at this time.”
As of Saturday afternoon, first responders were doubling back in their search and rescue effort looking for survivors among the rubble.
Wynne High School and First United Methodist Church were destroyed, along with several businesses along Falls Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare. Most of the destruction was on the west and east sides of Wynne, Blake said.
Blake said he declared a “verbal” disaster declaration Friday to help facilitate the state and federal assistance the county needs to resettle the people who lost their homes.
“The biggest concern right now is what are we going to do next week when we’re still trying to figure out where to put people to live since there’s no homes,” Blake said. “Property and all of that can be replaced, but as long as we got the people safe and everything I think we’re going to be doing pretty good.”
According to the weather service, more rain is in the forecast for tonight, with the most forecast for south Arkansas. El Dorado is projected to get from 2 to 3 inches of rain, while one-half to 1 inch is forecast for Little Rock and as much as a quarter-inch for the Wynne area.