By Brendan O’Brien and Steve Gorman
(Reuters) -A fierce tornado blasted through Little Rock, Arkansas, on Friday, ripping away roofs and walls from many buildings, uprooting trees and flipping over vehicles, while the extent of casualties remained unclear.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital, the state’s only major trauma center, declared a level-1 mass casualty alert after the tornado struck Little Rock on Friday, according to Andrea Peel, a spokesperson for the facility.
She told Reuters the center had so far received only one patient, but that other hospitals were taking patients as well.
There was no immediate word from official authorities on the full extent of injuries and property damage.
“We’re operating in red status, with all hands on deck,” said Aaron Gilkey, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (MEMS) agency.
Video shot from a window in Little Rock’s Baptist Health Medical Center and verified by Reuters showed a towering, swirling black column of air, moisture and dust plowing slowly through the landscape in the near distance.
Aerial footage posted by The Weather Channel showed a heavily damaged area of the city spanning several blocks with numerous homes missing roofs and walls, some of them collapsed, and overturned vehicles littering streets.
The National Weather Service also reported that tornado activity had destroyed several homes and downed trees in and around Little Rock.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said on Twitter that he had asked Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders to mobilize National Guard troops to assist in the emergency response.
Sanders signed an executive order to immediately authorize $250,000 from the state disaster response and recovery fund to be used at the discretion of the director of the state Division of Emergency Management, a local reporter tweeted.
The twister struck the capital city of Arkansas as an immense blast of extreme spring weather swept much of the United States, menacing the nation’s midsection from Texas to the Great Lakes with dangerous thunderstorms and tornadoes.
The National Weather Service was tracking about 18 tornado reports, mostly in Arkansas and Iowa.
Tens of millions of Americans across the Great Plans, Midwest, South and East were under warnings and advisories for various weather hazards on Friday afternoon and evening and into the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
The round of turbulent weather comes a week after thunderstorms unleashed a deadly tornado that devastated the Mississippi town of Rolling Fork, destroying many of the community’s 400 homes and killing 26 people.
The weather service issued tornado watches for a region stretching from east Texas through the mid-South and Midwest as far north as Wisconsin, urging some 15 million people living in that area to prepare for violent twisters on Friday afternoon and evening.
“This is a particularly dangerous situation,” the weather service said.
Northeastern Arkansas, Missouri’s southern boot-heel, western Kentucky and western Tennessee were at greatest risk of severe thunderstorms capable of producing violent tornadoes, large hail and damaging straight-line winds, weather service said.
Several other major cities including Chicago, Indianapolis, and Memphis, Tennessee, were possibly in harm’s way of the severe weather, it added.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Will Dunham and Jamie Freed)
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Source: The Print