Five dead as tornadoes rip through Southern Plains

May 11, 2010 3:13:33 AM PDT
Tornadoes ripped through parts of the Southern Plains on Monday in an outbreak of violent weather that killed five people, tossed cars off highways, flipped mobile homes and sent baseball-size hail crashing through windshields, officials said.

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokesman Jerry Lojka said two people were killed Oklahoma City and three were killed in Cleveland County, which is south of the city. The agency did not have any additional details, including how the people died.

Officials reported that at least 58 others suffered injuries throughout Oklahoma in the daylong onslaught. Two of the injuries were critical. In some neighborhoods in Oklahoma City, emergency workers were going door to door to make sure everyone was accounted for.

The storms were part of a violent weather system that also spawned twisters in Kansas and that forecasters had been predicting since last week.

"You could just hear stuff hitting the house," Linda Sugg said, who rode out the storm in her home in Norman, the largest city in Cleveland County. After the weather cleared, she walked through her litter-filled front yard, picking up debris.

Many Oklahoma residents had been prepared for the bad weather. TV broadcasters dedicated their entire day to storm coverage, with some showing live video of the twisters as they rolled across the countryside.

"The kids and I got in the closet and prayed," said Jamie Keyes, of Norman, about 20 miles south of Oklahoma City. "I heard a hiss. It was like something was whistling very loud," she said. "We're all very fortunate."

Near Seminole, about 60 miles east of Oklahoma City, at least two homes were leveled after a tornado went through, Emergency Management Director Ernie Willis said. Emergency responders were going through the area to determine if anyone was hurt or trapped, he said.

Widespread destruction led authorities to close Interstate 40, a major east-west route, in both directions just east of Oklahoma City. Traffic was backed up 3 miles.

A Love's truck stop took a direct hit.

"Miracle of all miracles, we don't have any injuries from that location," Love's spokeswoman Christina Dukeman said. "We will rebuild and reopen."

Interstate 35, which runs from Mexico to Minnesota, also was closed briefly at the Kansas-Oklahoma border because overturned tractor-trailers blocked all lanes. At Moore, near Oklahoma City, trucks were overturned in the median but the road remained open.

In Kansas, the most serious damage was reported in Belmont. Several homes were damaged in the town east of Topeka and widespread power outages were reported. No injuries were reported.

Hours after hitting Oklahoma, the tornado-producing storm cell was moving into Arkansas.

Oklahoma City and its suburbs saw three storms develop just to the west and each caused damage as they moved across an area home to 1.2 million people.

The northern storm caused property damage near Edmond; two storms to the south turned into killers -- the one fatality near the truck stop and the three at Tecumseh, on the metro area's eastern edge.

"We've had a very strange event: multiple tornadic portions with this event as it came through," said David Barnes, the emergency management director for Oklahoma County. "We have multiple vehicles overturned, a housing addition has had multiple homes destroyed."

In Alfalfa County, Sheriff Charlie Tucker said hail as big as baseballs broke the windshields of numerous cars and damaged some homes.

"I came home once to look at my own personal vehicle and the windshield was all bashed out. The grandchildren's swing set was up and now it's gone, so there was straight-line winds that came through," Tucker said.

The Storm Prediction Center at Norman had predicted the outbreak, saying the atmosphere had the right mix of winds, heat and moisture. One twister touched down just east of the center's building on the University of Oklahoma campus.


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