One person has died and nearly 30 were injured during a roof collapse at a Belvidere venue during a metal concert Friday night, officials said.
Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody said during a late Friday news conference that officers responded to The Apollo Theatre, 104 N. State St., where the collapse occurred, leaving one person dead and at least 28 others injured.
The city is approximately 70 miles northwest of Chicago.
“Once we arrived, we conducted a search and rescue of patrons inside Apollo … (our) sole responsibility was to get individuals outside the building,” Woody said.
The Belvidere Police Department said calls began coming from the theater at 7:48 p.m., according to the Associated Press. The department said that an initial assessment was that a tornado had caused the damage, but fire officials on the scene Friday said they could not confirm a tornado had touched down.
Once emergency crews were outside, they tried to secure the scene, and escorted people away from the building as best they could, Woody said during the news conference.
“Chaos. Absolute chaos,” Woody said. “When first responders got there, they tried to control the chaos as best as possible. We tried to go in and save as many people as we possibly can and bring them to safety as best as we can.”
A staffer working at Rockford’s Saint Anthony Medical Center said they treated 12 patients, none of whom had died. The staffer said the victims were split among three hospitals.
Belvidere Mayor Clint Morris’ wife told the Tribune late Friday that he remained at the scene of the Apollo Theatre, Morris dropped everything to hustle over there when it happened.
“He’s worried about the residents,” said the mayor’s wife, who asked to not be named.
The establishment was formerly a movie theater, she said.
Video showed people inside the venue desperately lifting debris from the area in front of the stage to free trapped concertgoers as lightning lit the sky showing through a partially collapsed roof.
Other video showed numerous fire and police vehicles outside the Apollo. The streets were littered in debris, and a large overhanging sign outside the venue’s entrance had fallen.
The town just east of Rockford in northeastern Illinois had been under a tornado warning until 8:30 p.m., the National Weather Service said. Radar indicated a tornado had formed in a large area that included the town, the NWS said.
Heavy metal bands Morbid Angel, Revocation and Skeletal Remains were set to play the venue Friday night, its website showed.
The show was canceled because of “a tornado that hit the Venue,” said a post to the band Morbid Angel’s Facebook page.
“We ask anyone who is still traveling to the venue to please seek shelter and stay safe. We are currently sheltering in place, and want to extend our support and hope that everyone at the show tonight is safe,” the band wrote. “Right now our focus is on making sure everyone in the venue tonight is OK and gets home.”
Local leaders shared their concern as the emergency developed.
“Praying for those involved in the Apollo Theater incident and the Belvidere community. Please join me,” said state Rep. Maurice West of Rockford.
Fellow Rockford state Rep. Dave Vella, who represents Belvidere, warned of the collapses possible lasting impact.
“It seems they might be individuals hurt and in bad shape. I understand this might be hard for our community. Please pray for them and prepare with me to help those that need it. We are nothing if we don’t take care of our neighbors. Good luck and god bless to all,” he wrote on Facebook.
Tornados reportedly touched down across Illinois Friday night hours after National Weather Service officials issued a tornado watch for Chicago and much of northeastern Illinois in effect until 10 p.m. Friday.
The afternoon warning included Chicago’s suburbs, Rockford, DeKalb, Peru and Kankakee, among other Illinois cities. It also affects northwestern Indiana and southwestern Wisconsin — including Madison, Milwaukee and Kenosha.
A monster storm system tore through the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that shredded homes and shopping centers in Arkansas. 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.
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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.
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.
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.
This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.
The Associated Press contributed.