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Tornadoes Injure Dozens in Widespread Severe Weather in Arkansas

The interior of store is damaged after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., March 31, 2023.

A tornado raced through Little Rock and the surrounding areas of the state of Arkansas on Friday, splintering homes, overturning vehicles and tossing trees and debris on roadways as people raced for shelter. There were early reports of at least two dozen people hurt, some critically.

Another tornado hit the town of Wynne in the eastern part of the state near the Tennessee border, and officials reported widespread damage there including destroyed homes and downed trees.

There were more confirmed twisters in Iowa, damaging hail fell in Illinois and wind-whipped grass fires blazed in Oklahoma, part of a massive storm system threatening a broad swath of the country that is home to some 85 million people in the South and Midwest.

The destructive weather came as President Joe Biden toured the aftermath of a deadly tornado that struck in Mississippi a week ago and promised the government would help the area recover.

The Little Rock tornado tore first through neighborhoods in the western part of the city and shredded a small shopping center that included a Kroger grocery store. It then crossed the Arkansas River into North Little Rock and surrounding cities, where widespread damage was reported to homes, businesses and vehicles.

A car is upturned in a Kroger parking lot after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., March 31, 2023.
A car is upturned in a Kroger parking lot after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., March 31, 2023.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center in Little Rock was operating at a mass casualty level and preparing for up to 20 patients, spokesperson Leslie Taylor said. Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock officials told KATV in the afternoon that 21 people were admitted there with tornado-caused injuries, including five in critical condition.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who announced that he was requesting assistance from the National Guard, tweeted in the evening that officials were aware of 24 people who had been hospitalized in the city, but no fatalities had yet been reported.

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 those who were and remain in the path of this storm," she tweeted. "Arkansans must continue to stay weather aware as storms are continuing to move through."

Also hit was the town of Wynne, about 80 kilometers west of Memphis, Tennessee, which Sanders said saw "widespread damage" from a tornado.

City Councilmember Lisa Powell Carter told AP by phone that Wynne was without power and that roads were full of debris.

"I'm in a panic trying to get home, but we can't get home," she said. "Wynne is so demolished. ... There's houses destroyed, trees down on streets."

Police Chief Richard Dennis told WHBQ-TV that the city suffered "total destruction" and multiple people were trapped.

Nearly 70,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, according to, which tracks outages.

About 32,000 were without electricity in neighboring Oklahoma, where wind gusts of up to 97 kph fueled fast-moving grassfires. People were urged to evacuate homes in far northeast Oklahoma City, and troopers shut down portions of Interstate 35 near the suburb of Edmond.

Multiple tornadoes were reported moving through parts of eastern Iowa, with sporadic damage to homes, barns and other buildings.

One tornado veered just west of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, which canceled a watch party at an on-campus arena for the women's basketball Final Four game.

Massive storms brewing over at least 15 states in the Midwest and southern U.S. on Friday had meteorologists urging people to brace for dangerous weather including tornadoes, saying the conditions are similar to those a week ago that unleashed a devastating twister that killed at least 21 people in Mississippi.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center forecast called for an unusually large outbreak of thunderstorms with the potential to cause hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could move for long distances over the ground.

Such "intense supercell thunderstorms " are only expected to become more common, especially in Southern states, as temperatures rise around the world.