Six people – including two children – died in a tornado near Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, officials said.
The two children who died were under the age of five, Madison County Emergency Management Director Diogenes Ayala said.
“This is, I think, the worst anyone has seen in quite a long time,” Ayala said.
The tornado in Madison County, which is southwest of Des Moines, also left one adult with life-threatening injuries and three others hospitalized in serious condition, Ayala said.
The National Weather Service office in Des Moines said an initial estimate shows it was an EF3 tornado, with wind speeds of at least 136 miles per hour.
“This is a widespread storm,” Ayala said. He estimated there was serious damage to more than two dozen homes.
Two people were injured in nearby Polk County, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
The NWS in Des Moines had earlier warned a “large and extremely dangerous storm” was moving toward Pleasant Hill, a city about 5 miles east of Des Moines, and people should seek shelter immediately.
The severe weather caused “damage to several homes, power lines, and trees,” the sheriff’s office said. First responders were in the area conducting a damage assessment and helping residents.
“Downed powerlines, standing water and debris blocking roadways are creating dangerous travel conditions in this area and we are asking for the public’s assistance by staying clear of the area and allowing these agencies to work unimpeded,” the sheriff’s office cautioned in the post.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Madison County, saying she and her husband are praying for the lives claimed and those injured in the tornado.
“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the deadly storms that tore through our state today,” Reynolds said in a news release Saturday. “Our hearts ache during this time, but I know Iowans will step up and come together to help in this time of need – they already are”
The proclamation allows state resources to be used for response and recovery efforts in Madison County, according to the news release. Other counties may be added to the proclamation.
Severe storms were forecast for Iowa, including in Des Moines, Saturday afternoon and evening.
Typically in March, severe weather is focused over the Gulf Coast states, from Texas to Florida. For example, Texas averages 11 tornadoes in March, while Iowa typically only sees two.
CNN’s Jennifer Feldman, Allison Chinchar and Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.