US tornadoes: Death toll grows as extreme storms ravage several states

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At least 26 people have been killed after a series of tornadoes tore through towns and cities in the South and Midwest of the United States.

Homes were destroyed and thousands left without power after huge storms caused devastation across several states.

There have been more than 80 reported tornadoes since 31 March, according to the National Weather Service.

States including Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama and Mississippi have all had fatalities.

One storm shredded through the Arkansas town of Wynne – a community some 100 miles (170km) east of the state capital, Little Rock.

Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in the bathroom as a tornado passed overhead, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead”.

A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but they were unhurt.

“We could feel the house shaking, we could hear loud noises, dishes rattling. And then it just got calm,” Ms Macmillan told AP news agency.

Wynne High School was badly damaged, with some buildings torn to pieces. One of its teachers, Lisa Worden, said a decision to send pupils home early was critical.

“We got out at 1:30, which was such a God blessing from our superintendent, because otherwise kids would have been on busses and teachers would have still been here. And so that would have been even more devastating,” she told Reuters news agency.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency in the state of Arkansas on Friday, with the national guard activated to help with recovery efforts.

She said she had spoken to President Joe Biden about the situation, who promised federal aid.

Friday’s storms also led to the collapse of a theatre roof at a packed heavy metal gig in Belvidere, Illinois state, leading to one death and 28 injuries.

As storms continue to work their way east, hundreds of thousands of people are without power across several states.