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EF3 tornado leaves parts of Little Rock in shambles

(NewsNation) — Portions of Little Rock, Arkansas, are left in shambles from a powerful twister that ripped through Central and Eastern Arkansas Friday night.

Governor Huckabee Sanders told NewsNation that five people have been killed statewide, including four in Wynne, Arkansas.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock said their survey team confirmed it was a high-end EF3 tornado — with winds up to 165 mph — that crushed parts of the city, including a shopping center, just about 10 minutes from downtown.

Stunned residents of Wynne, a community of about 8,000 people 50 miles 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. Broken walls, windows and roofs pocked homes and businesses.

One man was just packing up his truck after grocery shopping and described having to sprint to shelter, just as the tornado made its way through.

“As I got in, huddled up against the cement barrier,” said storm survivor Ken Bruton. “Every single glass window blew out. People were blown back. I held on and it must have been a minute, huddled. I thought I was a goner for sure.”

The tornado stayed on the ground for about 20 to 25 miles, officials said. It was one of many tornadoes that killed at least 18 people and sent dozens more to hospitals, wrecking small towns and big cities across the Midwest and Southeast — from Iowa, to Indiana — Illinois and Tennessee.

Confirmed or suspected tornadoes destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees, and lay waste to neighborhoods across a broad swath of the country. The dead included seven in one Tennessee county, four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, and three in Sullivan, Indiana.

Other deaths from the storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama, Illinois and Mississippi, along with one near Little Rock, Arkansas, where the mayor said more than 2,000 buildings were in a tornado’s path.

The city’s mayor and the governor visited some of the hardest-hit Little Rock neighborhoods in the western part of the city, offering support and listening to stories of survival.

  • Damage from a late-night tornado is seen in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Authorities work the scene at the Apollo Theatre after a severe spring storm caused damage and injuries during a concert, late Friday, March 31, 2023, in Belvidere, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
  • Workers cut fallen trees along a road leading to Wynne, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
  • Wynne High school is damaged from Friday’s severe weather in Wynne, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
  • A fallen tree damages a house after a storm in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)
  • Heidi Jenkins, owner of Boulevard Salon, speaks with a reporter in front of her destroyed business in Wynne, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
  • Homes are damaged in a neighborhood from a storm in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Sha’Cori Washington)
  • Businesses and vehicles are damaged from a storm in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Sha’Cori Washington)
  • A worker inspects the collapsed marquee at the scene where the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed during a tornado, Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Belvidere, Ill. Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
  • Crew members work to clean up debris at the scene where the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed during a tornado Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Belvidere, Ill. Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
  • Damage from a late-night tornado is seen in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Damage from a late-night tornado is seen in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Jaycee Ahlefeld surveys the damage left after a late-night tornado devastated the area in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Ahlefeld’s son attended a day care that had been on what is now an empty lot. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Damage from a late-night tornado is seen in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Damage from a late-night tornado is seen in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Damage from a late-night tornado is seen in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Misty Grimes, searches through debris scattered throughout her yard left from a late-night tornado in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Grimes and her husband, Matt, were home as the storm hit, and found shelter inside their home. Neither were injured. Multiple deaths were reported in the area following the storm. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Debris covers the ground around damaged homes in Wynne, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
  • J.W. Spencer speaks with a reporter outside his home about his experience during the tornado in Wynne, Ark., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Unrelenting tornadoes that tore through parts of the South and Midwest that shredded homes and shopping centers. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
  • Volunteers comb through an area that was heavily damage by a tornado in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023, as search-and-rescue efforts continue. Storms that spawned possibly dozens of tornadoes have killed several people in the South and Midwest. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Volunteers comb through an area that was heavily damage by a tornado in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023, as search-and-rescue efforts continue. Storms that spawned possibly dozens of tornadoes have killed several people in the South and Midwest. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • Volunteers comb through an area that was heavily damage by a tornado in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023, as search-and-rescue efforts continue. Storms that spawned possibly dozens of tornadoes have killed several people in the South and Midwest. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • A school bus is surrounded by debris in an area that was heavily damage by a tornado in Sullivan, Ind., Saturday, April 1, 2023. Storms that spawned possibly dozens of tornadoes have killed several people in the South and Midwest. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
  • This photo provided by the Adamsville, Tenn., Police Department shows debris in the Adamsville, Tenn., area on Friday, March 31, 2023, after a deadly tornado passed through. (Adamsville Police Department via AP)
  • Savannah Bernard and Shakiya Wilson, 16, walk through the rubble next to the destroyed gym at Crestview Elementary School in Covington, Tenn., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. A severe storm or possible tornado hit the area on Friday night. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)
  • Jeremiah Burrell, 14, walks past the destroyed gym at Crestview Elementary School in Covington, Tenn., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. A severe storm or possible tornado hit the area on Friday night. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)
  • Anne Adams, the principal of Crestview Elementary, Pearlie Mason, a secretary at the school, and Carolyn Hayes, a teacher at the school, look at the damage to the school and surrounding area in Covington, Tenn., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Hayes normally works after school with students and would have still been inside in an area of the building that was heavily damaged had the school not closed early, she said. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

“It’s by the grace of God no one has been impacted with fatalities,” said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. “However as you see around here, many folks have been displaced and looking for shelter. We’re working towards that, again.”

Gov. Huckabee Sanders said there were mobile healthcare units on the ground, as well as national guard members assisting in Wynne.

“Little Rock is still not at capacity at any of our hospitals,” she said. “We expect it to maintain under control here in central Arkansas. The resources that were needed in eastern Arkansas have been provided.”

Recovery was already underway, with workers using chainsaws to cut fallen trees and bulldozers moving material from shattered structures. Utility trucks worked to restore power, and volunteers set out to help.

“I’m sad that my town has been hit so hard,” said Heidi Jenkins, a salon owner. “Our school is gone, my church is gone. I’m sad for all the people who lost their homes.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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