Tornado Kills 8 In Southern Oklahoma

Wednesday, February 11th 2009, 10:31 am
By: News On 6

Associated Press

LONE GROVE, Okla. (AP) -- An unusual cluster of February twisters touched down across Oklahoma, ripping off roofs, littering roads with downed power lines and killing eight people in a town in the southern part of the state.

Emergency responders searched into the night in the hardest-hit community of Lone Grove, where eight people died and 14 people sustained serious injuries on Tuesday, said Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten.

She said the National Guard was coming to the area to assist local authorities.

"We will do everything we can to get Oklahomans the assistance they need," Gov. Brad Henry said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Lone Grove and all of the other Oklahoma communities that have been impacted by the latest wave of severe weather. We know we have lost many lives in Lone Grove and we pray the losses do not rise any higher."

Rescuers found one woman injured but alive under an overturned mobile home, but eventually they suspended efforts until daybreak because of numerous electricity lines down.

Structures have been damaged or destroyed throughout the town of about 4,600, some 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, said Chester Agan, assistant emergency manager for Carter County.

A twister also touched down in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, where homes and businesses were damaged, but only three minor injuries were reported. A tornado also was reported in north-central Oklahoma and six homes were destroyed near the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond.

A team of meteorologists will be sent out to both areas on Wednesday to survey the damage, said Doug Speheger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman.

"We don't really have any indication of how a strong a tornado the Lone Grove one was," Speheger said.

More severe weather was possible on Wednesday as tornado watches were issued for Mississippi, north-central Louisiana, southeast Arkansas and parts of Missouri and Tennessee.

In Edmond, a body shop and the vehicles inside were twisted into a ball of metal after a tornado moved through.

"It's just surreal," shop manager Michael Jerry said. "You just don't believe it. Especially knowing you were just there minutes before. The steel girders are in a ball."

In northwest Oklahoma City, the twister apparently developed near Wiley Post Airport and then headed northeast before damaging several shopping centers and restaurants at a major intersection.

One wall of a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant collapsed, windows were blown out, and a piece of the eatery's awning was thrown into a tree alongside an adjacent restaurant. Signs were stripped and cars were damaged in the parking lot.

It then moved through the Boulder Ridge Apartments, a spread of two-story units surrounding a courtyard.

Shawn Tiesman, 33, moved to the apartment complex from Iowa about four months ago and got his first taste of Oklahoma's notorious weather but without the same protection of his former home.

"Where I'm from, we've got basements," Tiesman said. "I'm amazed that there's no basements here."

Instead, he invited his upstairs neighbors into his apartment and then used his futon mattress to barricade them into a walk-in closet. When he emerged, he couldn't believe the wreckage.

A large section of roof was blown off an apartment building and part of a wall was blown off another. One apartment had a gaping hole knocked in its side.

Parked cars were shifted by the wind and smashed into each other. A line of fencing and a light pole were knocked to the ground where the twister moved into the backyard of two neighboring homes, leaving tree limbs, children's toys and a smashed air conditioning unit strewn in its path.

Tornado sirens went off in the area to warn residents that the storm was approaching, but some were still caught off guard.

"I can't believe we didn't hear it. You know how you normally hear it coming," said Traci Keil, 37.

Power lines littered an intersection where motorists were told to stay in their cars until crews could clear the lines.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric reported about 8,900 customers without power, nearly 3,500 in Lone Grove, according to its Web site. Less than 1,000 Oklahoma City area customers were still in the dark. Eighteen power poles were snapped.

Besides the tornadoes, strong straight-line winds caused damage in southern and central Oklahoma, according to state emergency management officials.

Tornadoes are most numerous in Oklahoma in the spring, but can occur at any time, National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith said.

Winds of more than 60 mph caused dust storms in western Texas that reduced visibility so much some roads have been closed, the National Weather Service said.