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News / Nation & World

Second tornado in 5 weeks damages Oklahoma town and causes 1 death as powerful storms hit central US

Published: May 7, 2024, 9:43am
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An Oklahoma State Highway Patrol trooper searches storm damage Tuesday, May 7, 2024 in Barnsdall, Okla.
An Oklahoma State Highway Patrol trooper searches storm damage Tuesday, May 7, 2024 in Barnsdall, Okla. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP) Photo Gallery

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A tornado destroyed homes, forced the evacuation of a nursing home and toppled trees and power lines when it roared through a small Oklahoma town, one of several twisters that erupted in the central United States amid a series of powerful storms that stretched into Tuesday. At least one death was reported.

The tornado ripped through the 1,000-person town of Barnsdall, about a 40-minute drive north of Tulsa, on Monday night. It was the second tornado to hit the town in five weeks — a twister on April 1 with maximum wind speeds of 90 to 100 mph (145 to 161 kph) damaged homes and blew down trees and power poles in Barnsdall.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center cited 17 reports of tornadoes from Monday evening through early Tuesday in the central part of the United States. Eight of the twisters were in Oklahoma, two each in Kansas, South Dakota and Iowa, and one each in Nebraska, Missouri and Tennessee.

At least 30 to 40 homes in the Barnsdall area were damaged Monday night, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported, and a nursing home said it evacuated residents because a gas leak could not be turned off due to storm damage. Numerous road closings due to debris also were reported, according to Osage County Emergency Management.

One person died in Barnsdall and at least one is missing, Barnsdall Mayor Johnny Kelley said.

“There are several homes destroyed, completely leveled,” he said. “The toughest thing on me as the mayor is this is a small community. I know 75 to 80% of the people in this town.”

First responders rescued about 25 people, including children, from heavily damaged homes where buildings had collapsed on or around them, Kelley said. About a half dozen people suffered injuries, including a firefighter who was taken to a hospital with chest pains, he said.

Authorities launched a secondary search Tuesday morning to find one or two people who were still missing, Kelley said.

The Barnsdall Nursing Home posted online that all residents were accounted for with no injuries. They were being taken to other facilities. It asked families to bear with them “as it is chaos in town … Please pray for us.”

Aerial videos from Barnsdall showed several well-built homes reduced to piles of rubble and others with roofs torn off and damaged walls still standing. The powerful twister tossed vehicles, downed power lines and stripped limbs and bark from trees across the town. A 160-acre wax manufacturing facility in the community also sustained heavy damage, Kelley said.

Damage also was reported in Bartlesville, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northeast.

“We did take a direct hit from a tornado” in the city, said Kary Fox of the Washington County Emergency Management.

At the Hampton Inn in Bartlesville, several splintered 2x4s were driven into the south side of the building. Chunks of insulation, twisted metal and other debris was scattered over the hotel’s lawn, and vehicles in the parking lot were heavily damaged with smashed-out windows.

A survey team planned to head out Tuesday to evaluate damage in Barnsdall and Bartlesville, and in Arkansas, according to Joe Sellers, a meteorologist with the weather service’s office in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The storm prediction center warned of an enhanced risk of severe thunderstorms across the Ohio Valley on Tuesday with a possibility of few, potentially strong, tornadoes, hail and severe, damaging winds.

The main threat was shifting east Tuesday, said Roger Edwards, lead forecaster with the center, though it is not as intense a threat as on Monday.

The weather service in Tulsa had warned Monday evening that “a large and life-threatening tornado” was headed toward Barnsdall, with wind gusts up to 70 mph (112 kph). Meteorologist Brad McGavock said information on the tornado’s size and how far it traveled wasn’t immediately available Monday night.

The storms began earlier Monday with gusty winds and rain. But after dark, tornadoes were spotted skirting northern Oklahoma. At one point in the evening, a storm in the small town of Covington had “produced tornadoes off and on for over an hour,” the National Weather Service said. Throughout the area, wind farm turbines spun rapidly in the wind and blinding rain.

In Kansas, some areas were pelted by apple-sized hail 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter.

The storms tore through Oklahoma as areas, including Sulphur and Holdenville, were still recovering from a tornado that killed four and left thousands without power late last month. Both the Plains and Midwest have been hammered by tornadoes this spring.

Oklahoma’s State Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates storm response from a bunker near the state Capitol, remains activated from last weekend’s deadly storms.

Oklahoma and Kansas had been under a high-risk weather warning Monday. The last time such a warning was issued was March 31, 2023, when a massive storm system tore through parts of the South and Midwest including Arkansas, Illinois and rural Indiana.

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The entire week is looking stormy across the U.S. The eastern U.S. and the South are expected to get the brunt of the bad weather through the rest of the week, including in Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Cincinnati, cities where more than 21 million people live. It should be clear over the weekend.

Meanwhile, floodwaters in the Houston area began receding Monday after days of heavy rain in southeastern Texas left neighborhoods flooded and led to hundreds of high-water rescues.