Tornadoes register as F4, F3

Tuesday, May 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A tornado that flattened homes and businesses in Moore and south Oklahoma City fell in the second-highest classification on the wind-force scale and was followed a night later by one nearly as strong.

Meteorologists who surveyed damage along the 20-mile path of Thursday's tornado determined it was an F4 on the Fujita scale, said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The tornado injured 134 people when it hit Moore, Oklahoma City and Choctaw during rush hour. About 300 homes and 20 businesses were destroyed, officials said.

F4 twisters feature winds from 207 mph to 260 mph, leveling even solidly constructed buildings and throwing cars and other large objects, according to the Fujita scale.

A tornado that hit roughly the same area of south Oklahoma City and Moore on May 3, 1999, causing major damage and killing 44 people statewide, was an F5, the highest classification, featuring winds of 318 mph.

A tornado that struck north Oklahoma City late Friday _ one of at least eight in central Oklahoma that night _ was an F3, Smith said.

F3 tornadoes are characterized by winds of 113 mph to 157 mph that cause considerable damage such as removing rooftops and destroying mobile homes, according to the scale.

Friday's tornadoes injured 10 people and led to one death _ 80-year-old Leonard Kitchens of Woodward, who was visiting Warr Acres.

Kitchens was rushing to shelter in the inside hall of his daughter's home when he fell forward and hit his head on a doorjamb, said Jane Kitchens, his daughter.

Kitchens appeared OK at first but grew gradually worse until he fell into a coma and never recovered, Jane Kitchens said.

Nearly 2,000 residences and 50 businesses incurred at least minor damage, and more than 400 homes were destroyed in the two storms, according to the state Department of Civil Emergency Management.

Thus far, insurers have received claims for between $100 million and $125 million in damaged property, but the final tally is expected to be closer to $400 million, said Jerry Johns, president of the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an insurance trade association.

``Claims are not coming as quickly as we would have expected,'' Johns said. ``We are speculating that people are just moving things out of their homes. This week will be the week that most claims will be filed.''

Meanwhile, cleanup continued in Moore.

``The cleanup is proceeding nicely,'' Gov. Brad Henry said. ``Right now, the first priority is to get things cleaned up and stabilized so we can get power back on for residents.''

Larry and Jovanna Gorbet in Moore had power again, and they already had a $16,000 check in hand from State Farm Insurance to replace a damaged roof, fence and siding and broken windows. Just north on Lawton Avenue, homes were destroyed.

The Gorbets moved back home Monday after staying at their daughter's house in Norman since Thursday.

``We're welcome there but it's just not the same,'' said Larry Gorbet, standing in his kitchen next to a laundry tub filled with broken glass and debris.

The Gorbet's claims adjuster, Greg Morgan of Edmond, has been working 12-hour days since Thursday and spent Friday night in his closet trying to stay safe during the storms that night.

``These are so devastating because they hit so many people at once,'' said Morgan, who has previously worked earthquakes and hurricanes. ``There are thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted and are going to be for months.

``It's probably one of the worst catastrophes I've been in,'' he said. ``May 3 was worse, but there's not a lot that can compare to that.''