Pope Francis leaves hospital; 'Still alive,' he quips

Pope Francis leaves hospital; 'Still alive,' he quips

Pope Francis showing improvement, Vatican says

Pope Francis improving after hospitalization, Vatican says


Pope Francis was discharged on Saturday from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, quipping to journalists before being driven away: “I’m still alive.”

Francis, 86, was hospitalized on Wednesday at Gemelli Polyclinic after reportedly having breathing difficulties following his weekly public audience. The pontiff was treated with antibiotics administered intravenously, the Vatican said.

Before departing, Francis had an emotional moment with a Rome couple whose 5-year-old daughter died Friday night at the hospital. Serena Subania, mother of Angelica, sobbed as she pressed her head into the chest of the pope, who put a hand on the woman’s head.

Francis seemed eager to linger with well-wishers. When a boy showed him his arm cast, the pope made a gesture as if to ask “Do you have a pen?” A papal aide handed Francis one, and the pope autographed the cast.

Italy Pope
Pope Francis autographs the plaster cast of a child as he leaves the Agostino Gemelli University Hospital in Rome, Saturday, April 1, 2023.

Gregorio Borgia / AP

The pontiff answered in a voice that was close to a whisper when reporters peppered him with questions, indicating he did feel chest pain, a symptom that convinced his medical staff to take him to the hospital Wednesday.

Francis sat in the front seat of the white Fiat 500 car that drove him away from Gemelli Polyclinic. But instead of heading straight home, his motorcade sped right past Vatican City, according to an Associated Press photographer positioned outside the walled city-state.

The pope was apparently headed to a Rome basilica that is a favorite of his. After he was discharged from the same hospital in July 2021 following intestinal surgery, Francis stopped to offer prayers of thanksgiving at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, which is home to an icon depicting the Virgin Mary.

On Friday, Vatican officials said Francis would be at St. Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday Mass to mark the start of Holy Week, which culminates on Easter, April 9.

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As California floods, a farmworker town feels forgotten — again

As California floods, a farmworker town feels forgotten — again


PAJARO, Calif. — It was happening again. A broken levee, a frantic flight from fast-approaching floodwaters. The prospect of losing everything.

Nearly 28 years to the day since the first time the Huezo family and hundreds of their neighbors were forced from their homes, the rain-soaked Pajaro River was swallowing this small farming community once more.

“I want to cry, but a tree has to be strong while its branches break, and I am the tree,” Antonio Huezo, 72, said as he surveyed the damage. “We have worked more than 40 years to achieve all this, and in 24 hours or less everything we made over a lifetime is gone.”

The Huezo family is among thousands across the state who are reckoning with the toll of a brutal run of winter weather. But longtime residents, local officials and activists say a history of disinvestment and marginalization has left Pajaro and the 3,000 people who live here especially vulnerable.

Last month’s flooding, they say, shows how entire towns can fall through the cracks of local, state and federal systems meant to prevent disasters and assist recoveries. In the weeks since the flood, Pajaro has become an example of the ways in which the country is ill-prepared to address climate-change-fueled devastation in its most at-risk communities.

“The way it’s playing out is exactly as predicted,” said Nancy Faulstich, the founder of Regeneración, a local climate-justice advocacy group. “The people with the fewest resources who are on the margins of society are going to experience these unnatural disasters. What’s clear is we are not prepared as a society for these shocks.”

Authorities knew the levees in Pajaro could fail again, but an improvement project has languished for years. In mid-March, the river burst through a hole in the embankment and plunged nearly every corner of the unincorporated town underwater, the worst disaster since the flooding of 1995.

Residents are furious that more was not done to protect them from a predictable crisis. Officials in Monterey County, home to Pajaro, acknowledge that local leaders have not prioritized the town, but they insist the paradigm is shifting and they’ve called for more state and federal support.

“Historically, these communities have not received the attention of all the levels of government that they deserve,” said Luis Alejo, the chair of Monterey County’s Board of Supervisors. “Only recently are we changing and redirecting resources to communities that never had them.”

The Huezos were finally permitted to return to their pale yellow home at the end of a block off Pajaro’s main road late last week. In the town, houses were caked in noxious mud and debris. Mold was sprouting from ceilings. Contaminated water had streamed into the Huezo home’s first floor, destroying all it touched. Outside, it wrecked their truck, carried trash bins far into the lettuce fields behind their home and toppled a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology.

For Maria Huezo, 72, Antonio’s wife, who has lived in Pajaro with her husband for more than four decades, the devastating flood was more evidence of something she has long believed: “We’re always forgotten here.”

‘Inadequate’ protection

The region home to the Pajaro River and the town that bears its name is nestled between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on the state’s Central Coast. It is home to some of the most productive farmland in the world and has long been an important agricultural hub, growing twice as many strawberries as anywhere else in California.

It is an area with rich history: Colonizers from Spain gave the community its name, which means “bird” in Spanish, in 1769. The artist who painted the cover of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” a novel set in the neighboring Salinas Valley that follows the story of tenant farmers whose fields were also flooded, was born in Pajaro.

But that legacy also includes a pattern of neglect by local and state governments, which came to see Pajaro as a politically unimportant home for farmworkers, most of whom are migrants from Mexico, and treated it as “a hinterland for the commercial and political centers” in the wealthier parts of the region, one researcher observed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal government’s leading flood control agency, built the levees along Pajaro River in the late-1940s using surplus material from World War II. But less than 15 years after their completion, a Corps report found the project was “inadequate for protection of the area.” Congress authorized a makeover but did not fund it.

Even after the ruinous flooding of 1995, which soaked thousands of acres of farmland and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, federal, state and local authorities could not agree on project plans and financing.

One major impediment was the Army Corps’ cost-benefit analysis of the project, which calculated that the construction cost would outweigh the value of protecting a low-income rural area — a formula widely criticized for exacerbating racial and economic inequity.

“What’s so infuriating is this community has long known these levees are insufficient for wet years in California,” said Danielle Zoe Rivera, a University of California at Berkeley professor who has been conducting research in Pajaro for two years. “They have for decades and decades been trying to get the attention of the state, the counties, the Army Corps of Engineers, to legitimately address the issue. What stopped any levee improvement project in the past was the cost-benefit analysis never came back in the community’s favor.”

The area is also politically fragmented. The Pajaro River is the border between Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, dividing Pajaro from the city of Watsonville to its north. The two places are closely intertwined. Their populations are overwhelmingly Latino, and residents share churches and grocery stores. But Watsonville, in Santa Cruz County, is incorporated, with its own municipal services and local elected leaders, while Pajaro is run by Monterey County supervisors.

This arrangement has created deep inequalities, especially in Pajaro River flood control maintenance, an area where Santa Cruz has outspent Monterey by millions of dollars.

In recent years, however, the long-promised levee improvement project cleared some major hurdles. The Army Corps changed its cost-benefit calculus to emphasize environmental justice, and the California legislature passed a bill guaranteeing full state funding of the new system.

But then came this winter’s rains. Officials say the levee improvements will still get done — and could even be expedited, a silver lining to the catastrophe — but the timing of the latest failure was agonizing.

“We had all this positive momentum,” said Mark Strudley, executive director of the recently-formed Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency. “The real unfortunate part about this, other than this devastation of the community, is the community losing hope in the process and being reminded of the vulnerability they’ve always carried.”

County officials have sought to reassure residents that this time will be different, but they are confronting deeply-held frustration and skepticism after decades of broken promises.

“It’s a new team at the county since 1995,” said Nicholas Pasculli, a Monterey County spokesman. “We’re committed, there’s no question about it, we want Pajaro to come back and we want it to be stronger and better, and people aren’t going to rest until that happens.”

‘A humanitarian crisis’

Andres Gonzalez Vaca awoke after midnight on March 11 in his apartment at the back of a used-car lot. The town was being evacuated, and water was beginning to pool on the low-lying pavement.

His family of five had no time to pack. Vaca picked up his 7-year-old daughter and they piled into his truck, without shoes or a change of clothes. Vaca, 45, works in nearby strawberry fields and said he hasn’t received any support from the government, aside from a voucher that allowed his family to stay in a hotel for a couple days.

He returned home to a terrible scene: Thick mud had spread over his driveway and inside his house, caking his daughter’s favorite teddy bear and the framed photo of him and his wife on their wedding day.

“We lost everything in sight,” he said. “We lost the beds of the girls, all their clothes, mattresses, food that we had stored in the garage, our furniture, the refrigerator, the washing machine. We lost it all.”

The hundreds of acres of flooded farmland will have to be fallowed for up to two months, according to federal rules, because the water may be tainted by contaminants or sewage. For laborers like Vaca, this could mean months without work.

“Now the people who were living paycheck to paycheck are in several thousand dollars of debt and will incur several thousands more just to try to rebuild, just to clean up period,” said Tony Nuñez. He is with Community Bridges, a nonprofit assisting with disaster recovery. “There’s no way to describe it other than a humanitarian crisis.”

State audits and independent researchers have found that California is unprepared to protect its most vulnerable residents, especially undocumented Latino and Indigenous immigrants, who are ineligible for federal disaster relief funds and unemployment insurance benefits. This gap has a particularly profound impact in Pajaro, as Monterey County is home to one of the largest shares of undocumented immigrants in the state. More than 1 in 10 identify as Indigenous, according to a recent report, which acknowledges the actual share is probably much higher. These residents face additional obstacles, and they often find resources are unavailable in Mexican Indigenous languages such as Mixtec and Triqui.

Local nonprofits and mutual aid groups are trying frantically to fill the breach in services, collecting donations, delivering essential supplies and giving out free meals. One group, Campesina Womb Justice, has raised more than $150,000 for direct aid for farmworkers.

“Our community has been suffering the whole winter,” said María Ascención Ramos Bracamontes, the group’s founder. “Their need is just getting worse and worse.”

Calls for more state and federal assistance have increased in recent days, as residents returned to wrecked homes and county officials assessed the extensive damage. On Tuesday, some 18 days after the levee failure, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) requested a major disaster declaration from the White House, which would unlock a suite of federal aid programs.

Residents and local leaders complained about the delay, but state officials said they needed time to prove the disaster met the standards for federal relief. Because the damage in Pajaro alone did not meet the threshold, the state expanded the request to include nine storm-battered counties. A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was ready to respond if the declaration was approved.

“We know government moves slowly sometimes, but this community today feels like, if this were an affluent community, FEMA would be on the ground already, they’d be here providing their services,” said Alejo, the Monterey County supervisor, who grew up a block from the river in Watsonville. “There’s a sense of injustice when they’ve been waiting.”

Last week, Alejo delivered a carload of heavy-duty brooms, thick gloves and cleaning supplies to a hard-hit mobile home park, where residents with little money to spare were now facing the prospect of starting from scratch.

“Here, one feels like we are the least important,” said Daniel Aguilar, as he shoveled mud from his teal mobile home. He fears the muck is hazardous — contaminated with waste and chemicals from surrounding farmland — and he’s afraid for his 16-year-old, who developed respiratory problems after a previous storm brought mold into the house.

Aguilar doesn’t know when he’ll be able to come back for good. Across Pajaro, hundreds of homes were damaged and thousands were displaced. It could be at least another week until the town has safe drinking water. Business owners are wondering when, or if, they’ll be able to reopen.

Francisco Moran, a used-car dealer, had nearly three-dozen vehicles in his lot when the floodwaters came. Now, he said, they’re all probably totaled, a loss of some $300,000. His family is praying that their insurance covers part of it — something that didn’t happen after the 1995 flood.

“It’s so taxing, it’s so demoralizing,” said his son, Francisco Moran Jr., who was helping his father with the laborious work of cleaning up. Moran said he still owes about $150,000 to financing companies that helped him buy the cars at auction.

“I don’t know what hurts more,” Francisco Moran Jr. said, “your back after cleaning, or your heart after you realize you don’t have cars to sell, you owe the money and they want their money.”

A half-mile away, the Huezos were also tallying their losses. In 1995, flooding caused about $35,000-worth of damage at their home. But the family stayed and rebuilt the house they had worked so hard to buy. This time could be different. After the property is fixed, Antonio Huezo and his wife will try to leave Pajaro. They want to be far away from the next flood.

“I’d like to sell my house and go somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t want any more rivers.”

Morelia Portillo Rivas and Paul C. Kelly Campos contributed to this report.

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350 million are ‘marching toward hunger,’ says outgoing U.N. food chief

350 million are ‘marching toward hunger,’ says outgoing U.N. food chief


David Beasley, the head of the U.N.’s World Food Program, took off his mask to offer a broad smile as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of his agency in 2020. At the time, he said that more than 270 million people were “marching toward starvation.”

That figure is now up to 350 million people, Beasley has said in media interviews this week as he prepares to step down from the position on April 4 — a number larger than the population of the United States. “I thought we could put the World Food Program out of business” when he took the job in 2017, he said in an interview with the BBC broadcast Friday.

The food crisis “is going to get worse,” he added. Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine are all to blame, he said.

Among those 350 million — those the United Nations considers to have acute food insecurity, who must sell essential possessions to obtain food — 50 million people are “knocking on famine’s door,” Beasley said. That latter group refers to those who have access to three or fewer food groups and take in 2,100 calories or less per day.

“That 50 million has got to get food, or otherwise they clearly will die,” he said.

WFP needs to raise $23 billion to help those 350 million people, he told the Associated Press. “Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40 percent of it, quite frankly,” he said.

Cindy McCain to lead U.N.’s World Food Program

The best thing that could happen would be for Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war, and to let Ukraine and Russia resume their roles as the breadbaskets of the world, he told the BBC.

Ukraine was the world’s third and fifth biggest seller of corn and wheat, respectively, before the war, while Russia was the world’s largest exporter of wheat and fertilizers, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a data website. The war has depressed the production and export of those products, Beasely has said.

Beasley declined to say whether he agreed with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s assertion that Moscow had weaponized food.

China, the Gulf nations and billionaires must also “step up big time,” he told the Associated Press.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, contributed $12 million to WFP last year. That was less than provided by the likes of New Zealand and Ukraine, which have gross domestic products that were less than 2 percent of China’s in 2021. The United States was, by far, the largest donor, giving $7.2 billion.

Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, did not say whether he would return to U.S. politics after leaving WFP. “Last week, my daughter had our third grandchild, a little girl,” he told the BBC. “And I’m looking forward to going home, and relaxing for at least a few weeks or a couple months, and we’ll see.”

Cindy McCain, who is serving as Washington’s representative to the U.N. Agencies in Rome and is the widow of former senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), will replace Beasley next week.

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Russia-Ukraine war: Will there be a spring counteroffensive?

Russia-Ukraine war: Will there be a spring counteroffensive?

Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War II is poised to enter a new phase in the coming weeks. With…

Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War II is poised to enter a new phase in the coming weeks.

With no suggestion of a negotiated end to the 13 months of fighting between Russia and Ukraine, the Ukrainian defense minister said last week that a spring counteroffensive could begin as soon as April.

Kyiv faces a key tactical question: How can the Ukrainian military dislodge Kremlin forces from land they are occupying? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is working hard to keep his troops, and the general public, motivated for a long fight.

Here’s a look at how the fighting has evolved and how the spring campaign might unfold:


Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 2022, but its attacks fell short of some main targets and lost momentum by July. Ukrainian counteroffensives took back large areas from August through November.

Then the fighting got bogged down in attritional warfare during the bitter winter and into the muddy, early spring thaw.

Now, Kyiv can take advantage of improved weather to seize the battlefield initiative with new batches of Western weapons, including scores of tanks, and fresh troops trained in the West.

But Russian forces are dug in deep, lying in wait behind minefields and along kilometers (miles) of trenches.


The war has exposed embarrassing shortcomings in the Kremlin’s military prowess.

The battlefield setbacks include Russia’s failure to reach Kyiv in the early days of the invasion, its inability to hold some areas and its failure to take the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut despite seven months of fighting. Attempts to break the Ukrainian will to fight, such as relentlessly striking the country’s power grid, have failed too.

Moscow’s intelligence services badly misjudged Ukraine’s resolve and the West’s response. The invasion also depleted Russian military resources, triggering difficulties with ammunition supplies, morale and troop numbers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently concerned that the war could erode public support for his government, has avoided an all-out push for victory through a mandatory mass mobilization.

“The Russians have no end of problems,” said James Nixey, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, a think tank in London.

Realizing he cannot win the war any time soon, Putin aims to hunker down and drag out the fighting in the hope that Western support for Kyiv eventually frays, Nixey said.

Russia’s strategy is designed around “getting the West to crumble,” he said.


The Ukrainian military starts the season with an influx of powerful weapons.

Germany said this week that it had delivered the 18 Leopard 2 tanks it promised to Ukraine. Poland, Canada and Norway have also handed over their pledged Leopard tanks. British Challenger tanks have arrived too.

Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has said he’s hopeful Western partners will supply at least two battalions of the German-made Leopard 2s by April. He also expects six or seven battalions of Leopard 1 tanks, with ammunition, from a coalition of countries.

Also pledged are U.S. Abrams tanks and French light tanks, along with Ukraine soldiers recently trained in their use.

The Western help has been vital in strengthening Ukraine’s dogged resistance and shaping the course of the war. Zelenskyy recognizes that without U.S. help, his country has no chance to prevail.

The new supplies, including howitzers, anti-tank weapons and 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition, will add more muscle to the Ukraine military and give it a bigger punch.

“Sheer numbers of tanks can drive a deeper wedge into Russian holding positions,” Nixey said.

In their counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces will look to break through the land corridor between Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula, moving from Zaporizhzhia toward Melitopol and the Azov Sea, according to Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.

If successful, the Ukrainians “will split the Russian troops into two halves and cut off supply lines to the units that are located further to the west, in the direction of Crimea,” Zhdanov said.


The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, reckons that Ukraine will need to launch a series of counteroffensives, not just one, to get the upper hand.

The operations would have “the twin aims of persuading Putin to accept a negotiated compromise or of creating military realities sufficiently favorable to Ukraine that Kyiv and its Western allies can then effectively freeze the conflict on their own regardless of Putin’s decisions,” the institute said in an assessment published this week.

Nixey has no doubt that each side will keep “tearing chunks out of each other” over the coming months in the hope of gaining an advantage at the negotiating table.

A make-or-break period may lie ahead: If Kyiv fails to make progress on the battlefield with its Western-supplied weapons, allies may become reluctant to send it more of the expensive hardware.

The stakes are high: Defeat for Ukraine would “have global ramifications, and there will be no such thing as European security as we (currently) understand it,” Nixey said.


Associated Press Writer Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Pope Francis improving, to be discharged from hospital Saturday, Vatican says

Pope Francis improving, to be discharged from hospital Saturday, Vatican says

Pope Francis has been cleared by doctors for discharge on Saturday from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, the Vatican said, adding that the pontiff had pizza one evening with medical staff and baptized a baby in the pediatrics ward.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, in one of several updates on Friday, also said that Francis will be in St. Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday Mass at the start of Holy Week, although he didn’t say if the pontiff would deliver the homily during the particularly lengthy service.

“The medical team that is following His Holiness Pope Francis, after evaluating the outcome of tests carried out today and the favorable clinical recovery, has confirmed discharge” on Saturday, Bruni said in a written statement Friday night.

Pope Francis set to leave hospital on Saturday, Vatican says
Pope Francis greets a child patient at the Policlinico Gemelli hospital in Rome, Italy, where he has been staying due to a respiratory infection. 

Holy See Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Francis, 86, was hospitalized on Wednesday at Gemelli Polyclinic, where doctors said the pontiff was receiving antibiotics intravenously to treat his bronchitis.

Calling the pontiff’s medical recovery “normal,” Bruni said earlier in the day that on Thursday evening, “Pope Francis had dinner, eating a pizza, together with all those who are assisting him in these days of the hospital stay,” including doctors, nurses, assistants and Vatican security personnel.

Given the pope’s return to the Vatican hotel where he lives, the spokesman said, was expected to be present in the square for Palm Sunday Mass, which formally begins Holy Week that culminates with Easter Mass in the square on April 9.

Medical personnel decided to hospitalize him on Wednesday after he returned to his Vatican residence following his customary weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican reported he had experienced difficulty breathing in the previous days.

The Vatican on Thursday said that antibiotic treatment for bronchitis had resulted in a “marked” improvement in his health.

In a video released by the Vatican, Francis was seen baptizing a hospitalized baby who is a few weeks old.

After the mother tells Francis the boy’s name, Miguel Angel, the pope uses a metal hospital tray usually employed to hold syringes to pour water over the sleeping baby’s head, then tries to comfort the infant, who wakes up, wailing and seeming to try to swat away the pope’s hand.

Francis then asked the mother to dry her son’s wet forehead. He then told her: “When you go to your parish, say that the pope baptized him.”

Francis was smiling and looked chipper as he visited children being treated at Gemelli for cancer and gave out large, wrapped chocolate Easter eggs.

Earlier in the day, Francis sent a tweet on Friday possibly inspired by his current health challenge.

“When experienced with faith, the trials and difficulties of life serve to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more and more open to God,” Francis wrote. The tweet carried a hashtag for Lent, the period of the liturgical year stressing penitence and sacrifice in the run-up to the joyous Church celebration of Easter, which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.

The Vatican seemed keen to quickly dispel any worries about the pope’s physical fitness to carry on fully with his duties. Nearly immediately after the announcement of a discharge date for Francis, the Vatican announced that the pope would meet the prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace.

Palm Sunday Mass usually draws tens of thousands of faithful, including many pilgrims from abroad, flocking to Rome for Holy Week.

Francis had already largely stopped celebrating Mass at major Catholic Church holy days because of a chronic knee problem, but had continued to preside at the ceremonies and deliver homilies.

The Holy Week appointments include a stamina-taxing late night Way of the Cross procession marked by prayers on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome and Easter Mass on April 9, which is traditionally followed by a long papal speech delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

During Wednesday’s hour-long public audience, Francis at times appeared visibly in pain when he moved about and was helped by aides.

In July 2021, Francis underwent surgery at Gemelli Polyclinic after suffering from a narrowing of his colon. As a young man in Argentina, Francis had part of a lung removed.

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1 dead, 28 hurt in Illinois theater collapse

1 dead, 28 hurt in Illinois theater collapse

A monster storm spawned tornadoes across the South and Midwest that ripped apart homes in Arkansas and collapsed a theater roof in Illinois.

BELVIDERE, Ill. — A monster storm system tore through the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that shredded homes and shopping centers in Arkansas and collapsed a theater roof during a heavy metal concert in Illinois.

At least one person was killed and more than two dozen were hurt, some critically, in the Little Rock area, authorities said. The town of Wynne in northeastern Arkansas was also devastated, and officials reported two dead there, along with destroyed homes and people trapped in the debris.

Authorities said a theater roof collapsed during a tornado Friday night in Belvidere, Illinois, and that injuries have been reported.

Authorities said a theater roof collapsed during a tornado in Belvidere, Illinois, killing one person and injuring 28. The Belvidere Police Department said the collapse occurred as a heavy storm rolled through the area and that calls began coming from the theater at 7:48 p.m. It said that an initial assessment was that a tornado had caused the damage.

The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theatre during a heavy metal concert in the town located about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.

Belvidere Fire Department Chief Shawn Schadle said 260 people were in the venue at the time. He said first responders also rescued someone from an elevator and had to grapple with downed power lines outside the theater.

Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody described the scene after the collapse as “chaos, absolute chaos.”

There were more confirmed twisters in Iowa and wind-whipped grass fires blazed in Oklahoma, as the storm system threatened a broad swath of the country home to some 85 million people.

The destructive weather came as President Joe Biden toured the aftermath of a deadly tornado that struck in Mississippi one 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.

In the evening, officials in Pulaski County announced a confirmed fatality in North Little Rock but did not immediately give details.

Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock officials told KATV in the afternoon that 21 people had checked in 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 property damage was extensive and “we are still responding.”

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders activated 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard to help local authorities respond to the damage throughout the state.

In Little Rock, resident Niki Scott took cover in the bathroom after her husband called to say a tornado was headed her way. She could hear glass shattering as the tornado roared past, and emerged afterward to find that her house was one of the few on her street that didn’t have a tree fall on it.

“It’s just like everyone says. It got really quiet, then it got really loud,” Scott said afterward, as chainsaws roared and sirens blared in the area.

Outside a Guitar Center, five people were captured on video aiming their phones at the swirling sky. “Uh, no, that’s an actual tornado, y’all. It’s coming this way,” Red Padilla, a singer and songwriter in the band Red and the Revelers, said in the video.

Padilla told The Associated Press that he and five bandmates sheltered inside the store for around 15 minutes with over a dozen others while the tornado passed. The power went out, and they used the flashlights on their phones to see.

“It was real tense,” Padilla said.

At Clinton National Airport, passengers and workers sheltered temporarily in bathrooms.

“Praying for all those who were and remain in the path of this storm,” Sanders, who declared a state of emergency, said on Twitter. “Arkansans must continue to stay weather aware as storms are continuing to move through.”

About 50 miles west of Memphis, Tennessee, the small city of Wynne, Arkansas, saw “widespread damage” from a tornado, Sanders confirmed.

St. Francis County Coroner Miles J. Kimble told the AP by phone Friday night that he was assisting the Cross County coroner in Wynne and that two people died there in the tornado.

He said no other information was immediately available because officials were working to notify family members. The deaths were “very difficult to see,” he said.

The governor at a briefing with Little Rock officials Friday night said it was possible the number of deaths could rise.

“We’re hopeful that it doesn’t, but I think given the nature and the volatility of the situation, we’re preparing that it could,” she said.

City Councilmember Lisa Powell Carter told AP that the town Wynne was without power and 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.”

City officials implemented a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The unrelenting tornadoes continued spawning and touching down in the area into the night.

The police department in Covington, Tennessee, said on Facebook that the west Tennessee city was impassable after power lines and trees fell on roads when the storm passed through Friday evening. Authorities in Tipton County, north of Memphis, said a tornado appeared to have touched down near the middle school in Covington and in other locations in the rural county.

Tipton County Sheriff Shannon Beasley said on Facebook that homes and structures were severely damaged. Downed trees and power lines blocked several roads.

Tornadoes moved through parts of eastern Iowa, with sporadic damage to buildings. Images showed at least one flattened barn and some houses with roofing and siding ripped off.

One tornado veered just west of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, which cancelled a watch party at an on-campus arena for the women’s basketball Final Four game. Video from KCRG-TV showed toppled power poles and roofs ripped off an apartment building in the suburb of Coralville and significantly damaged homes in the city of Hills.

Nearly 90,000 customers in Arkansas lost power, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.

In neighboring Oklahoma, wind gusts of up to 60 mph fueled fast-moving grass fires. People were urged to evacuate homes in far northeast Oklahoma City, and troopers shut down portions of Interstate 35.

In Illinois, Ben Wagner, chief radar operator for the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency, said hail broke windows on cars and buildings in the area of Roanoke, northeast of Peoria. More than 109,000 customers had lost power in the state as of Friday night.

More outages were reported in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.

Fire crews were battling several blazes near El Dorado, Kansas, and some residents were asked to evacuate, including about 250 elementary school children who were relocated to a high school.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a traffic management program was put into effect that caused arriving planes to be delayed by nearly two hours on average, WFLD-TV reported.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center had forecast 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.

Meteorologists said conditions Friday were similar to those a week ago that unleashed the devastating twister that killed at least 21 people and damaged some 2,000 homes in Mississippi.

The toll was especially steep in western Mississippi’s Sharkey County, where 13 people were killed in a county of 3,700 residents. Winds of up to 200 mph (322 kph) barreled through the rural farming town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping cars and toppling the town’s water tower.

The hazardous conditions were a result of strong southerly winds transporting copious amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico north, where they will interact with the strengthening storm system.

The weather service is forecasting another batch of intense storms next Tuesday in the same general area as last week. At least the first 10 days of April will be rough, Accuweather meteorologist Brandon Buckingham said earlier this week.

Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Harm Venhuizenin in Madison, Wisconsin, Isabella O’Malley in Philadelphia, Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi and Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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