Dozens of people were feared dead and communities across the Midwest and southern United States were left scrambling to assess the damage on Saturday morning after a string of unseasonably powerful storms and tornadoes swept across five states overnight.
Officials said that there were “confirmed fatalities” after a roof collapsed at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, that three had died in Tennessee and at least one at an Arkansas nursing home. Kentucky’s governor said that at least 50 had been killed in a tornado’s path of over 200 miles, and that the state’s death toll was likely to increase to more than 70 in the coming hours.
“Daybreak is going to bring more tough news,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news briefing. “It has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history,” he added. “Some areas have been hit in ways that are hard to put into words.”
At least five states were hit by tornadoes on Friday night, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, said Bill Bunting, the operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service.
He said the tornadoes were part of a weather system that was wreaking havoc in many parts of the country, causing substantial snowfall across parts of the upper Midwest and western Great Lakes.
Police officers and emergency workers responded to reports that the roof of an Amazon warehouse had collapsed in Edwardsville, Ill.
The Edwardsville Police Department said early Saturday that the storms, which started around 8:30 p.m. Friday, had resulted in “catastrophic damage to a significant portion” of the Amazon warehouse. A search-and-rescue operation was underway and next of kin were being notified, the police said.
In Tennessee, two people died in Lake County and one in Obion County, in the western part of the state, said Dean Flener, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
As of Saturday morning, more than 132,000 homes were without power in Tennessee, nearly 60,000 in Kentucky, more than 25,000 in Arkansas, nearly 24,000 in Illinois and nearly 10,000 in Missouri, according to reports compiled by PowerOutage.us.
A tornado hit an Arkansas nursing home, Monette Manor in the city of Monette, about 8:15 p.m. Friday, prompting a large response from the police and emergency workers in the area, according to Marvin Day, the Craighead County judge.
Search-and-rescue workers found one person who had died and five who had been seriously injured, Mr. Day said, correcting an earlier report that at least two people had been killed. He said that other residential buildings in the area had also been damaged.
“It’s just really heartbreaking,” he said.
The damage in Arkansas came after a severe thunderstorm produced a tornado that was tearing through the region, according to the National Weather Service. As of 9:17 p.m., the storm was near Trumann, Ark., and moving northeast at 55 miles per hour, bringing with it a tornado and quarter-size hail, the Weather Service said.
“Remember, there are people affected by all these tornadoes,” Craig Ceecee, a meteorologist and a graduate student at Mississippi State University, said on Twitter late Friday as he tracked tornadoes across Kentucky. “Communities being hit hard. And we won’t know how bad it is until morning. We have to think and pray for those being affected.”