Archive for Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Violent storms kill at least 7 in Oklahoma, Kansas

May 25, 2011

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— Violent thunderstorms roared across middle America on Tuesday, killing seven people in two states, with several tornadoes touching down in Oklahoma and high winds pounding rural Kansas.

The high-powered storms arrived as forecast, just two days after a massive tornado tore through the southwest Missouri town of Joplin and killed 122 people.

Several tornadoes struck Oklahoma City and its suburbs during rush hour, killing at least five people and injuring at least 60 others, including three children who were in critical condition, authorities said.

Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said four people died west of Oklahoma City in Canadian County, where a weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds. She did not have any immediate details about the deaths.

At Chickasha, 25 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, a 26-year-old woman died when a tornado hit a mobile home park where residents had been asked to evacuate their trailers, Assistant Police Chief Elip Moore said. He said that a dozen people were injured and that hundreds were displaced when the storm splintered their homes.

In Kansas, police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. near the small town of St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita. The highway was shut down because of storm damage.

More severe weather occurred after nightfall as the storms continued east, but none with the power of the daytime storms. Their path included Joplin, which is cleaning up from a Sunday storm that was the nation’s eighth-deadliest twister among records dating to 1840.

“Unfortunately, this event will likely continue for some time,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said. “I am asking all Oklahomans to stay aware of the weather and to take proper precautions to keep themselves out of harm’s way.”

The Storm Prediction Center had warned since the weekend that strong, long-lived tornadoes could hit Oklahoma and adjacent parts of Kansas and Texas. The storm that killed four west of Oklahoma City later moved to the capital’s northern suburbs and on toward Stillwater — covering a distance of about 80 miles.

“We knew for the last two days that we had an opportunity for long-tracking tornadoes, and unfortunately that came true today,” said Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Storms that formed near Chickasha even forced the staff of the Storm Prediction Center to take shelter at their Norman headquarters for a time Tuesday, spokeswoman Keli Tarp said.

Ooten said at least 60 people were injured in the evening storms. Three children suffered major injuries in Piedmont west of Oklahoma City, according to Lara O’Leary, a spokeswoman for the region’s Emergency Medical Service Authority.

The line of storms began about 3 p.m. in Oklahoma and followed tracks greater than 40 miles into the state’s capital city before continuing on toward Tulsa. Oklahoma state offices and many businesses let workers leave hours earlier to get out of harm’s way.

Storm clouds also spawned funnel clouds and at least one tornado around North Texas, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Travelers and staff at the two major North Texas airports were moved to safety.

Everyone in and around the Dallas Love Field terminal was moved to a basement beneath the terminal after the lights went out and lemon-size hail, high winds and radar signatures of a possible tornado threatened the airport about 9 p.m. Tuesday, spokesman Jose Torres said. No tornadoes were spotted, he said, and flights began taking off again later in the night.

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