One person was killed and about 30 others were injured when a partial roof collapsed at a theater near Rockford Friday night during a Metal concert, officials said.
Police Chief Shane Woody said during a late Friday news conference that Belvidere police were responding to The Apollo Theatre, 104 N. State St., when the collapse occurred. At least 28 people were injured.
The city is about 70 miles northwest of Chicago, just east of Rockford.
Woody said, “Once we arrived, we searched and rescued the patrons inside the Apollo … (our) only responsibility was to get people out of the building.”
Belvidere Fire Chief Sean Shadley said that about 260 concert-goers, staff and performers were inside the theater and that people were injured in several locations. He said that there was no news of anyone missing till 11 pm on Friday night.
The Belvidere Police Department said calls began coming in from the theater at 7:48 p.m., according to the Associated Press. The department said the initial assessment was that a tornado had caused the damage, but fire officials on the scene Friday said they could not confirm that a tornado had touched down.
Woody said during the news conference that once emergency crews were outside the theater, they tried to secure the scene and get people away from the building.
“Chaos. Complete chaos,” Woody said describing the scene. “When first responders got there, they tried to control the chaos as best they could. We tried to go in and rescue as many people as we could and bring them to safety as best we could.
Early Saturday the roof of the Apollo Theater was blown off and landed on State Street below, its warped metal and wood crushing a car.
The heavy marquee of the concert hall had fallen to the ground and bricks were scattered across the street.
Down the block, a taco truck trailer was flipped on its side and firefighters were stunned by the messy, taped-up scene.
One pointed to the building across the street from the theater, talking to a family standing nearby. If they had stayed there, they would have had to sleep elsewhere tonight, he said. Luckily, the building with the broken window frames was not theirs.
Daniela Ochoa said they had come to check on family members living in the building, which was deemed safe by authorities.
“There’s no visible damage, but they’re not answering their phones, so we’re wondering if they have to go somewhere else,” Ochoa said.
A large brick section of the white façade of a nearby building was torn off.
Inside Maggie’s Pizzeria, where a concert was scheduled several storefronts down from the theater, many people were still talking after midnight, some wearing band T-shirts.
A man who shared his name as Brian said the wind had suddenly become “before destroying everything”. He said that he fled to his home as soon as the storm hit.
The brief explosion knocked out their now boarded up windows. He pointed to the road on either side, where the storm had left a very small scar.
“It just came right here in this area and did what it had to do,” he said.
Right across from the Apollo on the other side of the Kishwaukee River, everything looked normal except for several fire engines and their flashing lights. Street lamps were burning and little debris fell on the ground.
NWS meteorologist Lee Carlow said that as of 11:50 p.m. Friday, the National Weather Service also could not confirm a tornado touched down in Belvidere, but it had recorded “possible tornado activity” and gusty winds.
An employee who worked at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in Rockford said he treated 12 patients, none of whom died. The employee said that the victims were divided into three hospitals.
The wife of Belvidere Mayor Clint Morris told the Tribune late Friday that he remained at the scene of the Apollo Theater, dropping everything to get to the theater after the roof collapsed.
“He’s concerned about the residents,” said the mayor’s wife, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The establishment was previously a movie theater, she said.
Video showed people inside the venue lifting debris from the area in front of the stage as lightning flashed into the sky through the partially collapsed ceiling.
Other videos showed several fire and police vehicles outside the Apollo. Roads were littered with debris, and a large hanging sign outside the entrance to the venue was toppled
The National Weather Service said Belvidere was under a tornado warning until 8:30 p.m. The NWS said radar indicated a tornado had formed over a large area, including the city.
Heavy metal bands Morbid Angel, Revocation and Skeletal Remains were set to play at the venue on Friday night, its website showed. The cancellation and skeletal remains said in a social media post that none of their members or crew were injured.
A post on the Facebook page of the band Morbid Angel stated that the show was canceled because of “a tornado that hit the venue”.
“We ask anyone who is still traveling to the venue to please take shelter and stay safe. We are currently sheltering in place, and want to offer 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 is okay and going home tonight.”
Local leaders shared their concerns as the emergency developed.
“Praying for those involved in the Apollo Theater incident and for the Belvidere community. Please join me,” said State Representative Maurice West of Rockford.
Fellow Rockford State Rep. Dave Vella, who represents Belvidere, warned of the possible lasting impact of the collapse.
“It appears (there) individuals may be hurt and in poor condition. I understand this can be difficult for our community. Please pray for them and join me in helping those in need.” Be prepared who needs it. We are nothing if we don’t take care of our neighbors. Best wishes and God bless everyone,” he wrote on Facebook.
The tornado reportedly reached Illinois Friday night, hours after the National Weather Service Officials issue tornado watch for Chicago and much of Northeast Illinois is in effect as of 10 p.m. Friday.
midday alert Other Illinois cities include the suburbs of Chicago, Rockford, DeKalb, Peru, and Kankakee. It also affects northwestern Indiana and southwestern Wisconsin – including Madison, Milwaukee and Kenosha.
A monster storm system ripped through the South and Midwest on Friday, spawning deadly tornadoes that damaged homes and shopping centers in Arkansas. More were confirmed in Iowa and wind-driven grass fires flared up in Oklahoma, as the storm system threatened wide swaths of the country home to some 85 million people.
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In Illinois, hail broke windows on cars and buildings in the area of Roanoke, northeast of Peoria, said Ben Wagner, chief radar operator for the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency. As of Friday night, more than 109,000 customers were without power in the state.
WFLD-TV reported that at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a traffic management program was implemented, which caused arriving planes to be delayed by an average of about two hours.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center predicted an unusually large thunderstorm outbreak with hail, damaging wind gusts and strong tornadoes that could travel long distances above the ground.
such “intense supercell thunderstorm “It is only expected to become more common, especially in southern states, as temperatures rise around the world.
The weather service is predicting next Tuesday another batch of intense thunderstorms in the same general area as last week. least First 10 days of April will be full of ups and downsAccuweather meteorologist Brandon Buckingham said earlier this week.
This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.
The Associated Press contributed.