WYNNE, Ark. (AP) — Residents across a wide swath of the United States raced Sunday to assess the devastation of severe storms that spawned dozens of tornadoes from the South and Midwest to the Northeast and killed at least 32 people.
The storms tore a path through the Arkansas capital, and the roof of a packed concert hall in Illinois collapsed, shocking people across the region. with intent to damage.
The death toll continued to rise on Sunday.
“While we still assess the full extent of the damage, we know that families across America are grieving the loss of loved ones, while others are anxiously awaiting news of their lives and sorting through the rubble of their homes and businesses,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Biden previously declared large swathes of the country as major disaster areas, making federal resources and financial aid available for recovery.
In Arkansas, where at least five people were killed, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders had already declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in 11 states destroyed homes and businesses, uprooted trees and dumped debris in neighborhoods.
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday that a tornado caused damage to several homes near Bridgeville, Delaware. Delaware State Police say a person was found dead inside a home heavily damaged by the storm Saturday night.
It may take a few days to confirm all recent hurricanes. The dead included at least nine in one Tennessee county, five in Indiana and four in Illinois.
Other deaths from storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama and Mississippi.
Residents of Vine, Arkansas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, saw the high school’s roof ripped off and its windows blown out on Saturday. At least four people died.
“We said goodbye to each other because we thought we were dead,” said Ashley MacMillan as her husband and their children huddled in the bathroom with the dogs. The tree fell and damaged their house, but they escaped unharmed.
Chainsaws rattled as bulldozers plowed through the debris. Utility crews restored power as some neighborhoods began to recover.
Tennessee has reported at least 15 deaths, including nine in McNairy County, east of Memphis, said Patrick Sheehan, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee traveled to the county Saturday to tour the devastation and offer comfort to residents. He said the storm capped the “worst” week of his tenure as governor, days after a school shooting in Nashville killed six people, including a family friend who attended his funeral for him and his wife.
“What happened in this community, in this county, in this state is horrific,” Lee said. “But it sounds like your community did what Tennessean communities do, which is rally and respond.”
Rachel Milam lived in the basement with her 6-year-old daughter, while her mother and her mother’s boyfriend lived upstairs in their home in suburban Waynesboro, Tennessee.
Friday night as the tornado approached, making a sound like a washing machine, everyone ducked into the cinder block basement bathroom.
“It tore off the roof and the shower curtain fell off,” Milam, 26, said Sunday. “So I’m trying to dig out the shower curtain. I saw darkness and then it started raining.
And then absolute terror.
“And the house — I saw it pick up and move … about six inches, then pick up, and it’s gone.”
“I was thinking, ‘We’re going to go and it’s going to take the tank,'” she said.
A piece of wood fell on them. So is a mirror. “We were fine and thankful we made it out alive,” Milam said.
Milam, who works as a nurse, soon joined other neighbors in digging people out of the ruined houses. A woman suffered injuries to her face and other parts of her body and was evacuated by helicopter. Another man was cut from the rubble of his home by rescuers using a chainsaw.
Jeffrey Day said he called his daughter after seeing their community in Adamsville being attacked. Hiding in a closet with her 2-year-old son as the storm passed, she answered the phone screaming.
“She said to me, ‘What should I do, Dad?’ “I don’t know what to say,” she asked, breaking down into tears.
After the storm passed, his daughter crawled out of the destroyed house and moved to a nearby family.
Elsewhere, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker traveled to Belvidere on Sunday and went to the Apollo Theater, where about 260 people attended a heavy metal concert that collapsed somewhat.
Frederick Livingston, Jr., was pulled from the wreckage but did not survive. He had gone to enjoy the concert with his son Alex.
“I couldn’t save him,” his son told WLS-TV. Father and son were standing side by side when the debris started pouring. “It happened so fast.”
Another 48 people are receiving treatment in hospitals and 5 are in critical condition, the governor said.
Pritzker also planned to visit Crawford County, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) south of Chicago, where three people were killed and eight injured after a tornado struck near New Hebron.
“Emergency crews had to dig people out of their basements because the house collapsed on top of them, but luckily they had a safe place to go,” Sheriff Bill Rudd said at a news conference.
The tornado was not far from where three people died in Sullivan County, Indiana, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis. Several people were rescued overnight and 12 injured, according to reports.
DiMillo reported from Little Rock and Finley in Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press writers from 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.