Tornadoes level homes in Okla.; one killed, at least 21 injured

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Updated: May 19, 2013, 9:43 PM

 

EDMOND, Okla. — Authorities say a tornado that severely damaged a mobile home park southeast of Oklahoma City killed a 79-year-old man whose body was found in an open area of the neighborhood.

Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth also said that six people who lived in the mobile home park were injured. Between 30 and 35 homes had significant damage, and number of frame homes in the neighborhood also sustained damage.

The storms were part of a severe weather outbreak that stretched from Texas to Minnesota. Twisters were also reported Sunday in Iowa and Kansas.

Forecasters had been warning of a general storm outbreak since Wednesday, and for Sunday’s storms some residents had more than a half-hour’s notice that a twister was on the way. Tornado watches and warnings were in effect through late Sunday in much of the nation’s midsection.

The trailer park west of Shawnee was among the hardest-hit areas, and among the hardest to reach, as tractor-trailers that forced the closure of a section of Interstate 40 north of the site and power lines draped across roads to the south.

James Hoke lives with his wife and two children in Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park. He said the family went into their storm cellar as the storm approached. When they came out, their mobile home had vanished.

“It took a dead hit,” Hoke said.

A storm spotter told the National Weather Service that the tornado left the earth “scoured” at the mobile home park.

“It seemed like it went on forever. It was a big rumbling for a long time,” said Shawn Savory, standing outside his damaged remodeling business in Shawnee. “It was close enough that you could feel like you could reach out and touch it.”

Gov. Mary Fallin declared an emergency for 16 Oklahoma counties that suffered from severe storms and flooding during the weekend. The declaration lets local governments acquire goods quickly to respond to their residents’ needs and puts the state in line for federal help if it becomes necessary.

Heavy rains and straight-line winds hit much of western Oklahoma on Saturday. Tornadoes were also reported Sunday at Edmond, Arcadia and near Wellston to the north and northeast of Oklahoma City. The supercell that generated the twisters weakened as it approached Tulsa, 90 miles to the northeast.

“I knew it was coming,” said Randy Grau, who huddled with his wife and two young sons in their Edmond home’s safe room when the tornado hit. He said he peered out his window as the weather worsened and believed he saw a flock of birds heading down the street.

“Then I realized it was swirling debris. That’s when we shut the door of the safe room,” said Grau, adding that they remained in the room for 10 minutes.

In Wichita, Kan., a tornado touched down near Mid-Content Airport on the city’s southwest side shortly before 4 p.m., knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses but bypassing the most populated areas of Kansas’ biggest city. The Wichita tornado was an EF1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with winds of 110 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Randy Duncan said there were no reports of fatalities or injuries in Kansas.

There were also two reports of tornadoes touching down in Iowa on Sunday night, including one near Huxley, about 20 miles north of Des Moines, and one in Grundy County, which is northeast of Des Moines, according to the Des Moines Register. There were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries.

In Oklahoma, aerial television news footage showed homes with significant damage northeast of Oklahoma City. Some outbuildings appeared to have been leveled, and some homes’ roofs or walls had been knocked down.

“When I first drove into the neighborhood, I didn’t see any major damage until I pulled into the front of my house,” said Csaba Mathe, of Edmond, who found a part of his neighbor’s fence in his swimming pool. “My reaction was: I hope insurance pays for the cleaning.”

“I typically have two trash cans, and now I have five in my driveway.”

The Storm Prediction Center had been warning about severe weather in the region since Wednesday, and on Friday, it zeroed in on Sunday as the day the storm system would likely pass through.

“They’ve been calling for this all day,” Edmond resident Anita Wright said after riding out the twister in an underground shelter. She and her husband, Ed, emerged from their hiding place to find uprooted trees, downed limbs and damaged gutters in their home.

In Katie Leathers’ backyard, the family’s trampoline was tossed through a section of fence and a giant tree uprooted.

“I saw all the trees waving, and that’s when I grabbed everyone and got into two closets,” Leathers said. “All these trees just snapped.”