May 30th, 2024

Tornadoes kill 4 in Oklahoma; governor issues state of emergency for 12 counties amid power outages

By Ken Miller, The Associated Press on April 28, 2024.

SULPHUR, Okla. (AP) – Tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma have flattened buildings across one rural town, killing at least four people, causing widespread power outages and leaving a trail of destruction, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Sunday.

Nearly 30,000 people remained without power after tornadoes began late Saturday night. The damage was extensive in Sulphur, a town of about 5,000 people, where some downtown buildings were reduced to rubble and roofs were sheared off houses across a 15-block radius.

“You just can’t believe the destruction,” Stitt said. “It seems like every business downtown has been destroyed.”

Stitt said about 30 people were injured in Sulphur alone. Dozens of reported tornadoes have wreaked havoc in the nation’s midsection since Friday, with flood watches and warnings in effect Sunday for Oklahoma and other states – including Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

In Oklahoma, a tornado ripped through Holdenville, a town of about 5,000 people, late Saturday, killing two people, and injuring four others, Hughes County Emergency Medical Services said in a statement Sunday. Another person was killed along Interstate 35 near the southern Oklahoma city of Marietta, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

In Holdenville, houses were demolished and road signs were bent to the ground in the community roughly 80 miles (129 kilometers) from Oklahoma City. The sound of chainsaws could be heard in the distance as workers began tackling the damage.

“My prayers are with those who lost loved ones as tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma last night,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement.

He issued an executive order Sunday declaring a state of emergency in 12 counties due to the fallout from the severe weather as crews worked to clear debris and assess damage from the severe storms that downed power lines. Later in the day, he planned to tour the southern Oklahoma city of Sulphur, where some buildings were reduced to piles of rubble.

More than 30,000 customers were without power in Oklahoma as of midday Sunday, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks electric utility outages. In Texas, nearly 52,000 customers were without power.

In Sulphur, authorities reported unspecified injuries along with significant destruction as the tornado began in a city park before tearing through Sulphur’s downtown area. Search and rescue operations were underway, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Photos from local news media showed several leveled buildings and roofs ripped off of homes. The Murray County Sheriff’s Office urged people to stay away from the city to clear the way for first responders following extensive damage from tornadoes, according to a statement posted by the agency on Facebook.

“Stay home and do not come to look,” the sheriff’s office said.

A hospital was damaged in Marietta, according to the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management, which also said that I-35 was closed at the border with Texas “due to overturned vehicles and powerlines across the highway.”

Residents in other states were also digging out from storm damage. A tornado in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, demolished homes and businesses Saturday as it moved for miles through farmland and into subdivisions, then slammed an Iowa town.

Fewer than two dozen people were treated at Omaha-area hospitals, said Dr. Lindsay Huse, health director of the city’s Douglas County Health Department.

“Miraculous” she said, stressing that none of the city’s injuries were serious. Neighboring communities reported a handful of injuries each.

The tornado damage started Friday afternoon near Lincoln, Nebraska. An industrial building in Lancaster County was hit, causing it to collapse with 70 people inside. Several were trapped, but everyone was evacuated, and the three injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

One or possibly two tornadoes then spent around an hour creeping toward Omaha, leaving behind damage consistent with an EF3 twister, with winds of 135 to 165 mph, said Chris Franks, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Omaha office.

Ultimately the twister slammed into the Elkhorn neighborhood in western Omaha, a city of 485,000 people with a metropolitan-area population of about 1 million.

Staci Roe surveyed the damage to what was supposed to be her “forever home,” which was not even two years old. When the tornado hit, they were at the airport picking up a friend who was supposed to spend the night.

“There was no home to come to,” she said, describing “utter dread” when she saw it for the first time.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spent Saturday touring the damage and arranging for assistance for the damaged communities. Formal damage assessments are still underway, but the states plan to seek federal help.

___

Associated Press journalists Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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