Frightened Oklahoma residents opt to flee tornadoes - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Frightened Oklahoma residents opt to flee tornadoes

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(AP Photo/Alonzo Adams). A tornado forms near Banner Road and Prairie Circle in El Reno, Okla. on Friday (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams). A tornado forms near Banner Road and Prairie Circle in El Reno, Okla. on Friday

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - It's a warning as familiar as a daily prayer for Tornado Alley residents: When a twister approaches, take shelter in a basement or low-level interior room or closet, away from windows and exterior walls.

But with the powerful devastation from the May 20 twister that killed 24 and pummeled the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore still etched in their minds, many Oklahomans instead opted to flee Friday night when a violent tornado developed and headed toward the state's capital city.

It was a dangerous decision to make.

Interstates and roadways already packed with rush-hour traffic quickly became parking lots as people tried to escape the oncoming storm. Motorists were trapped in their vehicles - a place emergency officials say is one of the worst to be in a tornado.

"It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives," said Terri Black, 51, a teacher's assistant in Moore.

After seeing last month's tornado also turn homes into piles of splintered rubble, Black said she decided to try and outrun the tornado when she learned her southwest Oklahoma City home was in harm's way. She quickly regretted it.

When she realized she was a sitting duck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Black turned around and found herself directly in the path of the most violent part of the storm.

"My car was actually lifted off the road and then set back down," Black said. "The trees were leaning literally to the ground. The rain was coming down horizontally in front of my car. Big blue trash cans were being tossed around like a piece of paper in the wind.

"I'll never do it again."

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said the roadways were quickly congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents.

"They had no place to go, and that's always a bad thing. They were essentially targets just waiting for a tornado to touch down," Randolph said. "I'm not sure why people do that sort of stuff, but it is very dangerous. It not only puts them in harm's way, but it adds to the congestion. It really is a bad idea for folks to do."

At least nine people were killed in Friday's storms, including a mother and her baby sucked out of their car as a deadly EF3 twister tore its way along a packed Interstate 40 near the town of El Reno, about 30 miles from Oklahoma City.

A 4-year-old boy died after being swept into the Oklahoma River on the south side of Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma City police Lt. Jay Barnett. The boy and other family members had sought shelter in a drainage ditch.

More than 100 people were injured, most of those from punctures and lacerations from swirling debris, emergency officials reported.

A total of five tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City metro area, the National Weather Service said.

Oklahoma wasn't the only state to see violent weather on Friday night. In Missouri, areas west of St. Louis received significant damage from an EF3 tornado that packed estimated winds of 150 mph. In St. Charles County, at least 71 homes were heavily damaged and 100 had slight to moderate damage, county spokeswoman Colene McEntee said.

Tens of thousands were without power, and only eight minor injuries were reported. Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency.

Northeast of St. Louis and across the Mississippi, the city of Roxana was hit by an EF3 tornado as well, but National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said it wasn't clear whether the damage in both states came from the same EF3 twister or separate ones.

Back in Oklahoma, Amy Williamson, who lives just off I-40 in the western Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, said when she learned the tornado was moving toward her home, she piled her two young children, baby sitter and two cats into her SUV.

"We felt like getting out of the way was the best idea," Williamson said. "It was 15 minutes away from my house, and they were saying it was coming right down I-40, so we got in the car and decided to head south."

Williamson said she knows emergency officials recommend taking shelter inside a structure, but fresh in her mind was the devastation of the Moore tornado. Seeing homes stripped to their foundation made her think that fleeing was the best idea, she said.

"I'm a seasoned tornado watcher ... but I just could not see staying and waiting for it to hit," she said. She ended up riding out the storm in a hospital parking garage.

On Saturday, muddy floodwaters stood several feet deep in the countryside surrounding the metro area. Torrential downpours followed for hours after the twisters moved east - up to 7 inches of rain in some parts - and the city's airport had water damage. Some flights resumed Saturday.

The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office said the body of a man who went missing from his vehicle early Saturday near Harrah, east of Oklahoma City, was found later in a creek by deputies. Roadways around the area were crumbling because of water, especially near an intersection in northeastern Oklahoma City and in Canadian County south of I-40, between Mustang and Yukon.

When the storm passed between El Reno and Yukon, it barreled down I-40 for more than two miles, ripping billboards down to twisted metal frames. Debris was tangled in the median's crossover barriers, including huge pieces of sheet metal, tree limbs and a giant oil drum. The warped remains of a horse trailer lay atop a barbed-wire fence less than 50 yards from the highway.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission reported more than 91,800 homes and businesses across the state remained without power Saturday.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Emergency officials set out Saturday to assess damage from a series of violent storms and tornadoes that killed nine people as it swept through Oklahoma City and its suburbs with tornadoes, large hail and heavy rain. More than 100 people were injured.

Muddy floodwaters stood several feet deep in the countryside surrounding the metro area. Torrential downpours followed for hours after the twisters moved east, and water damage was reported at the city's airport. The storms battered a state still reeling after the top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado that ripped through suburban Moore last month, killing 24 people and decimating neighborhoods.

Water surged hood-high on many streets, snarling traffic at the worst possible time: Friday's evening commute. Even though several businesses closed early so employees could beat the storm home, highways were still clogged with motorists worried about a repeat of the chaos in Moore.

Bart Kuester, 50, a truck driver from Wisconsin, said he was driving along Interstate 35 past Moore when he realized a dangerous storm was approaching.

"I heard the sirens going off and I could see it coming," he said.

Kuester said the interstate was flooded and jammed with people trying to outrun the storm.

"Everyone was leaving. ... Just because that one that hit Moore was so fresh in their memory," he said.

Though it was in the tornado warning zone, Moore was spared major damage by the storms, but still experienced heavy rain and high wind. A convention center where the town held its graduation in the days after the storm suffered minor flooding damage, officials said.

The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office said a man was missing from a vehicle near Harrah, east of Oklahoma City, and a pair of sinkholes were reported on each side of the metro area.

When the storm passed between El Reno and Yukon, it barreled right down Interstate 40 for more than two miles, ripping billboards down to twisted metal frames. Debris was tangled in the median's crossover barriers, including huge pieces of sheet metal, tree limbs, metal pipes, a giant oil drum and a stretch of chain-link fence.

The warped remains of a horse trailer lay atop a barbed-wire fence less than 50 yards from the highway.

Violent weather also moved through the St. Louis area. Early aerial images of the storm's damage showed groups of homes with porches ripped away, roofs torn off and piles of splintered wood scattered across the ground for blocks. Officials in St. Charles County also reported that local schools suffered some damage.

Among the nine dead in Oklahoma were a mother and a baby found in a vehicle. Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said Saturday the death toll was up to seven adults and two children. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Saturday afternoon that 104 people were hurt.

Meteorologists had warned about particularly nasty weather Friday but said the storm's fury didn't match that of the tornado that struck Moore. The Friday storm, however, brought with it much more severe flooding. It dumped around 8 inches of rain on Oklahoma City in the span of a few hours and made the tornado difficult to spot for motorists trying to beat it home.

"Some tornadoes are wrapped in rain, so it's basically impossible to see, which is extremely dangerous," said Bruce Thoren, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Norman. "Somebody driving along really not familiar with what's going on can basically drive into it."

Emergency officials reported that numerous injuries occurred in the area along I-40, and said the storm's victims were mostly in cars. Standing water was several feet deep, and in some places it looked more like a hurricane had passed through than a tornado. More than 86,000 utility customers were without power.

Among the injured was Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes, who suffered minor injuries when his "tornado hunt" SUV that he and two photographers were riding in was thrown 200 yards. The Weather Channel said all of the people in the vehicle were able to walk away, and that it was the first time a network personality was injured in a storm.

Will Rogers World Airport was slowly reopening Saturday and some flights were resuming. But the airport reported significant damage to the roof of the terminal, and flooding damage to walls, counters and floors.

In Missouri, the combination of high water and fallen power lines closed dozen of roads, snarling traffic on highways and side streets in the St. Louis area. At the Hollywood Casino in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, gamblers rushed from the floor as a storm blew through, causing minor damage to the building.

The U.S. averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year and most are relatively small. Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes to hit since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been hit the most - seven times each.

National Weather Service meteorologists said Saturday that it's unclear how many tornadoes touched down as part of the Friday evening storm system. Dozens of tornado warnings were issued for central Oklahoma and parts of Missouri, especially near St. Louis, they said, but crews must assess the damage before determining whether it was caused by tornadoes or severe thunderstorms.

But one thing is certain: The chances for severe weather are on the decline as a cold front moves through the region, said weather service meteorologist Gene Hatch in Springfield, Mo.

This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Emergency officials were preparing to survey tornado damage Saturday morning following the second major fatal storm to strike the Oklahoma City metropolitan area in several days.

The storm toppled cars and left commuters trapped on an interstate highway as it bore down during Friday's evening rush. Law enforcement officers and Red Cross damage assessment workers planned to head after dawn to areas in the city and its suburbs hit by what the National Weather Service reported were "several" tornadoes that rolled in from the prairie.

Five people were reported killed, including a mother and baby found in a vehicle. Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said early Saturday that she had no immediate word of additional fatalities. About 50 people were hurt, five critically, hospital officials said.

Violent weather also moved through the St. Louis area, ripping part of the roof off a suburban casino.

Meteorologists had warned about particularly nasty weather Friday but said the storm's fury didn't match that of a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado that struck suburban Moore, where a tornado killed 24 on May 20.

The Friday storm, however, brought with it far more severe flooding than that storm. It dumped around 7 inches of rain on Oklahoma City in the span of a few hours and made the tornado difficult to spot for motorists trying to beat it home, said Bruce Thoren, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Norman.

"Some tornadoes are wrapped in rain, so it's basically impossible to see, which is extremely dangerous," Thoren said. "Somebody driving along really not familiar with what's going on can basically drive into it."

The heavy rain and hail hampered rescue efforts in Oklahoma City. Frequent lightning roiled the skies well after the main threat had moved east. Highways and streets were clogged late into the night as motorists worked their way around flooded portions of the city.

Will Rogers World Airport said flights wouldn't resume until morning, after debris was cleared from runways.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said it's not known if the woman was driving into the storm when it hit around 7 p.m. Friday near Union City, killing her and the infant. Another person died at El Reno, and the circumstances involving the other two deaths weren't immediately known, Elliott said.

Emergency officials reported that numerous injuries occurred in the area along I-40, and Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area. Troopers requested a number of ambulances at I-40 near Yukon, west of Oklahoma City.

Standing water was several feet deep, and in some places it looked more like a hurricane had passed through than a tornado. More than 86,000 utility customers were without power.

The U.S. averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year and most are relatively small. Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes to hit since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been hit the most - seven times each.

In Missouri, the combination of high water and fallen power lines closed dozen of roads, snarling traffic on highways and side streets in the St. Louis area. At the Hollywood Casino in suburban of Maryland Heights, gamblers rushed from the floor as a storm blew out windows and tore off part of the roof.

Rich Gordon, of Jefferson City, said he was on the casino floor when he heard a loud "boom."

"I didn't know if it was lightning or what, but it was loud," Gordon said.

In Oklahoma, storm chasers with cameras in their cars transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. Police urged motorists to leave I-40 and seek a safe place.

"I'm in a car running from the tornado," said Amy Sharp, who last week pulled her fourth-grade daughter from the Plaza Towers Elementary School as a storm approached with 210 mph winds. "I'm in Norman and it just hit Yukon where I was staying" since last week's storm.

"I'm with my children who wanted their mother out of that town," Sharp said, her voice quivering with emotion.

At Will Rogers, passengers were directed into underground tunnels as the storm passed just north of the airfield. However, people near the area said they weren't aware of any damage.

Television cameras showed debris falling from the sky west of Oklahoma City and power transformers being knocked out by high winds across a wider area.

As the storm bore down on suburban Oklahoma City, Adrian Lillard, 28, of The Village, went to the basement of her mother's office building with a friend, her nieces, nephews and two dogs.

"My brother's house was in Moore, so it makes you take more immediate action," Lillard said while her young nieces played on a blanket on the floor of the parking garage. "We brought toys and snacks to try our best to keep them comfortable."

Friday evening's weather came after flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas late Thursday and early Friday. Three others were missing in floods that followed 6 inches of rain in the rugged Ouachita Mountains near Y City, 125 miles west of Little Rock.

This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (WXOW/AP) -- The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says a mother and child were killed as tornadoes moved through Oklahoma City.

Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph says troopers found the bodies near a vehicle along Interstate 40 west of the city Friday.

Another person was confirmed killed in the suburb of Union City.

Tornadoes slammed Oklahoma City and its suburbs, crumbling cars and tractor-trailers.

The Highway Patrol said there were multiple car crashes and flood waters are making parts of I-40 near Oklahoma City impassable.

The broad storm hit during the evening rush hour, causing havoc on I-40, a major artery connecting suburbs east and west of the city.

To the south, winds approaching 80 mph were forecast for Moore, where a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado killed 24 on May 20.

The storm at one point dropped three inches of rain in an hour, which caused street flooding.  High water remains a concern from officials as they try to negotiate streets to get to areas hardest hit by the tornadoes to deal with downed powerlines and other storm damage.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA (WXOW) - Some 53,000 homes are without power in the Oklahoma City area.  The outage includes Will Rogers Airport, where people there took shelter in underground tunnels while the storm moved through the area.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma Highway Patrol says mother and baby killed as storm moves through Oklahoma City area.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (WXOW) - Major highways are clogged with traffic as tornadoes and severe storms hit the Oklahoma City area late Friday afternoon.  KOCO TV is reporting that part of the problem is several tractor trailers were tipped over in the storm.

There are also reports from the station that there was damage to silos and barns in the area.

Three inches of rain fell in an hour which has led to flooding in various parts of the area. Video from the station showed a geyser of water coming out of a manhole in Oklahoma City. Several vehicles were stuck in 2-4 feet of water.

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MOORE, Okla. (AP) -- A storm that dropped tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area could bring high winds and heavy rains to the suburb that was recently hit by a deadly twister.

Forecasters said winds could top 80 mph when they move through Friday night.

Television cameras and radar images showed a strong storm approaching Moore, where a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado on May 20 killed 24 people.

A supercell thunderstorm produced a number of tornadoes as it hit suburbs west and east of Oklahoma City for several hours Friday afternoon. Moore wasn't hit in the main wave, but winds and rain moved toward the community just before sunset.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported numerous injuries in Friday's storms.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (WXOW) - People taking shelter in Moore.  Also getting reports of injuries and parts of interstate shut down around Oklahoma City area from the storm. One person is confirmed dead in the nearby community of Union City, OK according to KOCO-TV.

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MOORE, Oklahoma (WXOW) - Report of tornado on the ground four miles northwest of Moore.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (WXOW) - KOCO reporting storm containing possible tornado moving towards Moore, Oklahoma.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (WXOW) - KOCO-TV is reporting that Union City police have confirmed one person is dead from the tornado. Union City is in the vicinity of Oklahoma City.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (WXOW) - Power is out for thousands, the OKC airport is under evacuation according to CNN.

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EL RENO, Okla. (AP) -- The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says motorists have been hurt in a storm that hit the Oklahoma City area and that others are missing. The National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for the city's downtown, airport and several suburbs as the storm rolled through central Oklahoma.

Trooper Betsy Randolph said numerous vehicles were damaged in the storm and that many motorists are stranded. The Highway Patrol is urging motorists to get off Interstate 40 and drive to the south. A tornado touched down near El Reno and the storm moved to the east, toward Oklahoma City.

Television cameras carrying the storm on statewide television showed debris in the air.

A storm last week killed 24 at Moore, on Oklahoma City's south side. Friday's storm is north of Moore.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents are being told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.

Severe weather is hammering the nation's heartland again, with tornado warnings posted in the Southern Plains.

A storm has dropped a tornado in Oklahoma City's western suburbs, and is barreling toward the state's largest city as cameras broadcast the approach on television.

Damage is reported south of Interstate 40 near El Reno after the twister swept through a rural area. The Canadian County Sheriff's Office says it does not have any reports of injuries.

Well before Oklahoma's first thunderstorms fired up in the late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., was already predicting a violent evening.

The warned area includes Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb where 24 people died in a twister last week. Forecasters label the tornado watch as a "particularly dangerous situation."

Bad weather is also expected in parts of southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri.

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EL RENO, Okla. (AP) -- A storm dropped a tornado in Oklahoma City's western suburbs, then barreled toward the state's largest city as cameras broadcast the approach on television.

Damage was reported Friday south of Interstate 40 near El Reno after the twister swept through a rural area. The Canadian County Sheriff's Office said it did not have any reports of injuries.

Funnels of various sizes touched the ground south of El Reno, 25 miles west of Oklahoma City. At other times funnel clouds remained aloft. Cameras showed debris in the air.

State police conducted rolling roadblocks to prevent motorists from driving into the storm as it approached Oklahoma City, which has a million people in the metro area.

A storm last week killed 24 at Moore, on Oklahoma City's south side.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Forecasters are warning that parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri are likely to see more powerful storms today, with large hail and tornadoes possible.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center says the areas at greatest risk include Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Joplin, Mo., where a tornado killed at least 158 people in 2011. Flooding also is a concern in parts of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois through Sunday.

The region was strafed by storms again yesterday, with up to a dozen tornadoes touching down in mostly rural parts of Arkansas, as well as one in Illinois and three in Oklahoma.

National Weather Service teams are surveying the aftermath in Arkansas but say it could take days to confirm whether tornadoes struck. Flooded highways are hindering access to the storm-hit areas.

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