Monday, May 20, 2013

Death Toll Continues To Rise In Oklahoma Tornado Ravaged Areas.

Latest Updates on Tornado That Killed at Least 37 Near Oklahoma City

Last Updated, 8:30 p.m. Video and images taken in the aftermath of a tornado that tore through a suburb south of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon show a wide swath of destruction. At least 37 people have been killed, officials said.
Entire neighborhoods of single-family homes have been leveled. Students and teachers are feared trapped inside Plaza Towers Elementary School, according to reports from KFOR-TV, which is streaming live coverage online from Moore, Okla.
Lance West, a reporter and anchor for KFOR-TV, was overcome by emotion as he reported live from the scene at Plaza Towers. As parents rushed to the scene, search and rescue crews were calling out for survivors as they combed through what Mr. West said was a 10-foot mountain of debris at the school. He said that the school’s cinder-block walls had collapsed and that the roof was missing.
Mr. West said that fourth, fifth and sixth graders were accounted for at Plaza Towers, but that some students and staff members may be trapped inside. Students at another nearby elementary school, Briarwood, have been accounted for.
In the suburban neighborhood near the school, reporters on the scene said multiple homes were leveled.
Natalie Ruhl, a television producer from Oklahoma City, posted photos on Twitter of the destruction in Moore.

Massive tornado rips through Oklahoma City suburb

A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013.

A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you are on a mobile device and can't view the video, go to USTREAM.
To view footage of the tornado on a mobile device or tablet, click here.
MOORE, Okla. (AP) — A monstrous tornado at least a half-mile wide roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods with winds up to 200 mph, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.
There were no confirmed deaths, but at least 60 people were reported hurt, including more than a dozen children. Rescuers mounted a desperate rescue effort at the school, pulling children from heaps of debris and carrying them to a triage center.
The storm laid waste to scores of buildings in Moore, south of the city. Block after block of the community lay in ruins. Homes were crushed into piles of broken wood. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.
The National Weather Service issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, the second most-powerful type of twister.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said several injured children from the school had been taken to a hospital for treatment. She deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with search-and-rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers.
Fallin also spoke with President Barack Obama, who offered the nation's help and gave Fallin a direct line to his office.
Many land lines to stricken areas were down and cellphone traffic was congested. The storm was so massive that it will take time to establish communications between rescuers and state officials, the governor said.
In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen marching slowly across the green landscape. As it churned through the community, the twister scattered shards of wood, pieces of insulation, awnings, shingles and glass all over the streets.
Volunteers and first responders raced to search the debris for survivors.
At Plaza Towers Elementary School, the storm tore off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal.
Several children were pulled alive from the rubble. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain to the triage center in the parking lot.
James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching tornado and ran to the school, where his 5-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. Rushing believed he would be safer there.
"About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart," he said.
The students were placed in the restroom.
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.
Monday's powerful tornado loosely followed the path of a killer twister that slammed the region in May 1999.
The weather service estimated that the storm that Monday's tornado was at least a half-mile wide. The 1999 storm had winds clocked at 300 mph.
Kelsey Angle, a weather service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo., said it's unusual for two such powerful tornadoes to track roughly the same path.
Monday's devastation in Oklahoma came almost exactly two years after an enormous twister ripped through the city of Joplin, Mo., killing 158 people and injuring hundreds more.
That May 22, 2011, tornado was the deadliest in the United States since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before Joplin, the deadliest modern tornado was June 1953 in Flint, Mich., when 116 people died

Mile-wide tornado touches down near Oklahoma City, causing damage for second day in a row

A mile-wide tornado churned through Oklahoma City's suburbs Monday afternoon, causing significant property damage for the second day in a row, as part of a severe weather outbreak that was expected to spread in other parts of the Plains and Midwest.

A massive black-and-blue cloud dragged across the landscape just south of Will Rogers World Airport.

Television video showed debris from homes and businesses being carried aloft as the twister rolled through Moore, a community on the south side of Oklahoma City. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In advance of the storm, the Oklahoma House of Representatives stopped work so Capitol employees could take shelter in the basement. Television and radio broadcasters urged residents to take shelter because the storm's strength and size

"We're just waiting to see what happens. It's a mile-wide tornado. It's still grinding out," said Mark Meyers, a spokesman for the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office. "We are currently on standby for tornado response. Whatever happens, we'll be ready to respond."

The strongest winds on earth -- 302 mph -- were recorded near Moore during a tornado on May 3, 1999.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman had predicted a major outbreak of severe weather Monday in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

On Sunday, at least two people were killed and 29 were injured in Oklahoma as a severe storm system generated several tornadoes Sunday in Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa, leveling neighborhoods and sending frightened residents scurrying for shelter as extreme conditions are expected to linger across the Midwest.

The tornadoes, high winds and hail have been part of a massive, northeastward-moving storm system that has stretched from Texas to Minnesota.

"It's pretty bad. It's pretty much wiped out."

- Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth

At least four separate twisters touched down in central Oklahoma late Sunday afternoon, including one near the town of Shawnee, 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, that laid waste to much of a mobile home park. 

Oklahoma state medical examiner's office spokeswoman Amy Elliott on Monday identified the two people who are confirmed to have been killed as 79-year-old Glen Irish and 76-year-old Billy Hutchinson. Both men were from Shawnee.
Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth said one man, later identified as Irish, was found dead out in the open at Steelman Estates, but the sheriff didn't have details on where he had lived.

"You can see where there's absolutely nothing, then there are places where you have mobile home frames on top of each other, debris piled up," Booth said. "It looks like there's been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour ... It's pretty bad. It's pretty much wiped out."

A storm spotter told the National Weather Service that the tornado "scoured" the landscape in the park and an area along Interstate 40. Officials said drivers should expect delays along the highway in Shawnee as crews continue to clean up storm debris. Westbound Interstate 40 was closed Sunday night at U.S. 177 after storms ripped through the area. U.S. 177 was also shut down because of vehicle accidents caused by the severe weather.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said northbound U.S. 177 at I-40 was reopened as of 7 a.m. Monday. 

Westbound traffic on I-40 is narrowed to one lane, but all lanes are expected to reopen later Monday morning.

Across the state, 21 people were injured, not including those who suffered bumps and bruises and chose not to visit a hospital, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. 

Gov. Mary Fallin declared an emergency for 16 Oklahoma counties because of the severe storms and flooding. 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.

In Enid, Okla. on Saturday, a police officer was injured in high winds when his cruiser was struck by an object. Area emergency manager Mike Honigsberg told The Oklahoman that the car may have been hit by a cattle trough lifted by the wind. In Oklahoma City, an officer was trapped for a time when surrounded by fallen utility lines.

Another tornado grazed the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond Sunday afternoon, dropping hail as large as a grapefruit and damaging roofs and structures before heading east. Aerial flyovers in Wellston, northeast of Oklahoma City, showed significant property damage. 

"I knew it was coming," said Edmond resident Randy Grau, who huddled with his wife and two young boys 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," Grau said. "That's when we shut the door of the safe room. I probably had them in there for 10 minutes."

Dozen of counties in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri were placed under tornado watches and warnings that were in effect through late Sunday.

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 -- the strength of tornado on the enhanced Fujita scale -- with winds of 110 mph, according to the weather service.

Carl Brewer, the mayor of Wichita, told Fox News that the city was hit harder by high winds and golf ball-sized hail than anything from the tornado.

"That alone, and the rain, actually just really did a number on the city," he said. "It was so bad you think a tornado came through."

Brewer said hail ripped through the sides of houses in Wichita, in addition to breaking windows and damaging cars.
Jim Raulston, of Wichita, said the ferocious winds slammed the hailstones into his home.

"It was just unbelievable how the hail and everything was just coming straight sideways," Raulston said.

The National Weather Service also reported two tornadoes touched down in Iowa Sunday — near Huxley and Earlham. Damage included the loss of some cattle when the storm blew over a barn on a farm in Mitchell County. Some 11,000 homes were without power early Monday.

Read more:

Briarwood, Plaza Towers Elementary Schools Hit By Tornado In Moore, Oklahoma, Rescue Efforts Underway

Two elementary schools were directly impacted by a massive tornado in the Oklahoma City area on Monday, according to local media reports.
Plaza Towers Elementary School was flattened by the storm and Briarwood Elementary School was also 

Powerful tornadoes strike in four central U.S. states

 severely hit. It is unclear at this time how many people were at the schools when the damage occurred, but search and rescue efforts are underway.
"Apparently some kids were being sheltered there [at Plaza Towers]," local TV station KFOR reported during its live coverage of the tornado. The local news outlet laterconfirmed that children were being pulled from debris at the Plaza Towers site.
According to News 9, an Oklahoma City Police Department representative has stated that there are currently no reports of injuries at the Briarwood Elementary scene. The school did, however, suffer "extensive damage."
UPDATE: The AP is reporting that several children have been pulled out of the rubble alive at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Powerful tornadoes strike in four central U.S. states

A storm chaser gets close to a tornadic thunderstorm, one of several tornadoes that touched down in Kansas May 19, 2013. REUTERS-Gene Blevins

Mon May 20, 2013 4:16pm EDT

(Reuters) - A massive storm front swept north through the central United States on Sunday, hammering the region with fist-sized hail, blinding rain and tornadoes, including a half-mile wide twister that struck near Oklahoma City. News reports said at least one person had died.

By 9:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, more than two dozen tornadoes had been spotted in parts of Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and local news reports. Hail stones, some as large as baseballs, were reported from Georgia to Minnesota, the NOAA said.

Fox News reported that one person was killed in Shawnee, Oklahoma, east of Oklahoma City.

Police in Shawnee could not immediately be reached to confirm the report.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared 16 counties of the state disaster areas, according to Jerry Lojka, a spokesman for the state emergency management department.
By late Sunday, power outages were being reported in several Oklahoma counties, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.
Meteorologists had been warning for days that a powerful front was expected to blast through the region, spawning potentially destructive twisters. The extreme weather is expected to continue on Monday, National Weather Service advisories said.
National Weather Service offices across the region issued one urgent warning after another, throughout the afternoon and into the evening.
An extreme weather system stretching from north Texas to Minnesota had been building for hours on Sunday when the day's first tornado touched down near Wichita, Kansas at 3:45 pm Central Standard time, according to a weather service alert.
Just after 6 p.m., the Norman, Oklahoma office posted a Twitter alert on a tornado about to strike Pink, a town on the edge of Oklahoma City.

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