Second tornado rips through Oklahoma City

Saturday, May 10th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY - President Bush issued a disaster declaration Saturday for Oklahoma, clearing the way for federal aid after the second tornado in as many days damaged schools, homes and businesses and left thousands without electrical service.

Emergency crews worked to restore power after a tornado swept through the Oklahoma City area Friday night, snapping power poles like twigs. Five people were injured, one critically, in the latest storm.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown announced the disaster declaration after taking a bus tour of damaged areas. He said it will free up federal money that can be used for temporary housing and low-interest loans to small businesses.

"We'll get this money going and we'll get to working for you," Brown told Gov. Brad Henry, who also took the tour.

Friday night's tornado dropped from a storm that began in southwest Oklahoma and slowly grew to tornadic level near the town of Cogar, about 60 miles west of Oklahoma City.

Radio and television reports warned Oklahoma City residents to take cover about 10 p.m. and tornado sirens blared.

Paul O'Leary, spokesman for Emergency Medical Services uthority, said it did not appear injuries would climb above a
dozen, "which is unbelievable when you look at the pictures and that it went right across the metro."

The critical patient had a head injury; others were in fair condition.

The day before, a strong tornado moved through Oklahoma City's southern suburbs, injuring 134 and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. Of those injured, 21 remained hospitalized and at least three were in critical condition.

About 13,000 OG&E customers were without power Saturday, the
utility company said. Police Sgt. Mike Klika said the twister first touched down in Oklahoma City south of Interstate 40, moved north into the suburbs
of Bethany and Warr Acres and then moved back into Oklahoma City
along I-35. It then turned northeast back along I-44 and continued
to track toward Tulsa.

"I think our citizens had early warning and I think they learned their lesson, they took heed and took cover," Bethany Police Chief Neal Troutman said.

When it was over, neighbors came out to help Gene Wilson, whose mower service in northwest Oklahoma City was heavily damaged.

"We got here just after it rolled over us," Wilson said. "It's just devastating. My building and everything I've worked for 30 years is down on the ground."

His wife, Carol Wilson, looked through papers scattered in the rubble. "Oh my God, I couldn't believe it. It's horrible. It's our whole life," she said.

Southwest of Oklahoma City, the tornado damaged a fast-food restaurant, a gas station and a bank, authorities said. Putnam City West High School in far northwest Oklahoma City was damaged as was an elementary building at Oakdale School in far northeast Oklahoma City.

The red brick building, which lost its roof in a tornado several years ago, sustained heavy damage Friday. About two-thirds of the building was collapsed.

"At first glance, it looks like bulldozer material," Principal Kim Lanier said.

Art teacher Arni Anderson picked through his destroyed classroom.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "I lost kids' work and supplies, but I did manage to get out a 35-year collection of art work that was protected in special boxes."

Witcher Church, across the street from the school, also had some wind damage and a dozen power poles in the area were broken. Trees were snapped.

A plastic sign from the church, announcing Billy Graham's scheduled visit to Oklahoma City next month, was blown a couple of miles before it snagged on some bushes.

A house under construction in the nearby River Oaks subdivision was reduced to a pile of lumber. Another recently built house lost part of its roof.

Damage also was reported at Wiley Post Airport in the Bethany area west of Oklahoma City. Planes and hangers were reported damaged.

Nearby, Tarina Sexton and her three children stood in the front yard of their home, which was littered with tree limbs and debris.

"The roof in spots is all damaged," Sexton said. "What was in my backyard is in my front yard."

Albert Ashwood, state director of emergency management, said the damage from Friday's tornado was not as extensive as Thursday's twister.

"It's not going to be near as bad as the night before, unless it's your house," he said.

The earlier tornado destroyed more than 300 houses and businesses in and around Oklahoma City on Thursday. That storm carved a 19-mile path through the most densely populated part of the state, injuring 134 people but killing no one.

The National Weather Service measured winds speeds at about 200 mph in Thursday's storm.

Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency in Cleveland and Oklahoma counties after those storms, and asked President Bush for an expedited federal declaration of emergency to clear the way for federal assistance in the cleanup.

There is a chance of thunderstorms for Saturday, but mainly in eastern sections of the state, the weather service reported.