Twisters, floods sweep across US Midwest, 9 dead
OKLAHOMA CITY — Tens of thousands of homes remained without power Saturday as emergency officials assessed damage from a series of violent storms and tornadoes that killed nine people in Oklahoma City and its suburbs. More than 100 people were injured as many tried to flee the tornadoes only to find themselves trapped on clogged roadways.
Muddy floodwaters stood several feet deep Saturday in the countryside surrounding the Oklahoma City metro area. Torrential downpours followed for hours after Friday’s twisters moved east 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 east of Oklahoma City was found later in a creek.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission reported more than 91,800 homes and businesses across the state remained without power Saturday.
The storms battered a state still reeling after a monstrous storm known as an EF5 — ranking at the top of the scale measuring tornado strength — ripped through suburban Moore on May 20, killing 24 people and decimating neighborhoods.
With that disaster still etched in their minds, many Oklahomans opted to try to outrun a violent tornado that headed toward the state’s capital Friday night.
Water surged up to the hoods of cars 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.
Interstates and roadways already packed with rush-hour traffic quickly became parking lots. 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.
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 highway near the town of El Reno, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) 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. An EF3 tornado that packed estimated winds of 150 mph (240 kph) struck Missouri, leaving more than 70 homes heavily damaged.
Tens of thousands were without power, but only eight minor injuries were reported.