Kenneth Bruton was leaving a grocery store when he got in his pickup, looked back and saw the tornado coming over a hill.
“I got out of my truck and started running for shelter,” Bruton told KARK. The force of the wind knocked him down on his face, he said, but he was able to make it into a salon.
“And as I got in, huddled up against the cement barrier, every single glass window blew out, and people were blown back,” Bruton said. “And I held on. And it must have been a minute just huddled. I thought I was a goner for sure.”
The Arkansas State Emergency Operations Center issued a full activation in response to the severe weather Friday afternoon, according to a statement.
Almost 89,000 utility customers are without power in the state as of 8 p.m. E.T., according to poweroutage.us.
Tornado watches covered a swath from eastern Texas, into Arkansas and Kentucky and Tennessee, and north to eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin at around 7:30 p.m. ET, according to the National Weather Service.
The agency warned that many tornadoes can be expected as well as “widespread hail up to apple size” and wind gusts up to 70 mph.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency on Friday afternoon ahead of the severe weather expected in the western part of the state.
In Tennessee, Tipton County and other areas were under a “tornado emergency” Friday evening. The weather service issued an urgent plea to the city of Covington to take shelter immediately.
Tipton County Sheriff Shannon Beasley said in a Facebook post there was damage to multiple homes and other structures, and he urged residents to stay out of the area.
Tornado warnings were issued in Iowa on Friday, and there were reports of tornadoes on the ground.
Video shared by NBC affiliate KWWL of Waterloo, Iowa, showed damage to buildings in Coralville, a city of around 22,000 adjacent to Iowa City.
Severe thunderstorms are also likely with flash flooding possible from the Midwest to the Lower Mississippi Valley on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Storms will move at speeds topping 55 mph and will go late into the night, making for very dangerous conditions, according to the National Weather Service.
Intense rainfall rates of up to 3 to 5 inches could bring flash floods to some areas. The areas with the greatest risk for flooding through Friday night are across the Ohio, Tennessee, and Lower Mississippi valleys.
This major storm system is set to spread weather hazards across the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days.
The severe weather comes a week after tornadoes hit Mississippi and Alabama, killing 26 people and causing widespread damage.
Emma Li and Cristian Santana contributed.