June 18th, 2024

At least 14 dead in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after severe weather roars across region

By Sean Murphy And Julio Cortez, The Associated Press on May 26, 2024.

VALLEY VIEW, Texas (AP) – Powerful storms killed at least 14 people and left a wide trail of destruction Sunday across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where dozens sought shelter in a restroom during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S.

Seven deaths were reported in Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, where a tornado Saturday night plowed through a rural area near a mobile home park, officials said. Storms also killed two people and destroyed houses in Oklahoma, where the injured included guests at an outdoor wedding. Tens of thousands of residents were without power across the region.

“It’s just a trail of debris left. The devastation is pretty severe,” Cooke County Sheriff Ray Sappington told The Associated Press.

The dead included two children, ages 2 and 5, the sheriff said. The Texas county includes the small community of Valley View, which was among the hardest-hit areas. Three family members were found dead in one home, Sappington said.

Hugo Parra, who lives in Farmers Branch, north of Dallas, said he rode out the storm with 40 to 50 people in the bathroom of the truck stop near Valley View. The storm sheared the roof and walls off the building, mangling metal beams and leaving battered cars in the parking lot.

“A firefighter came to check on us and he said, “˜You’re very lucky,'” Parra said. “The best way to describe this is the wind tried to rip us out of the bathrooms.”

Multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in Denton County, Texas, also north of Dallas. But officials did not immediately know the full extent of the injuries.

At least five people were reported killed in Arkansas, including a 26-year-old woman who was found dead outside a destroyed home in Olvey, a small community in Boone County, according to Daniel Bolen of the county’s emergency management office.

Another person died in Benton County, Arkansas. Melody Kwok, a county communications director, said multiple other people were injured and that emergency workers were still responding to calls.

“We are still on search and rescue right now,” she said. “This is a very active situation.”

Two others died in Marion County, Arkansas.

Officials also confirmed two deaths in Mayes County, Oklahoma. Details about the dead were not immediately available, said Mike Dunham, the county’s deputy director of emergency management.

A DEADLY SERIES OF STORMS

The destruction continued a grim month of deadly severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa this week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. The deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

Meteorologists and authorities had issued urgent warnings to seek cover as the storms marched across the region overnight. “If you are in the path of this storm take cover now!” the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

HOMES DESTROYED, ROADS BLOCKED

Daybreak began to reveal the full scope of the devastation.

Residents woke up Sunday to overturned cars and collapsed garages. Some residents could be seen pacing and assessing the damage. Nearby, neighbors sat on the foundation of a wrecked home.

In Valley View, near the truck stop, the storms ripped the roofs off homes and blew out windows. Clothing, insulation, bits of plastic and other pieces of debris were wrapped around miles of barbed wire fence line surrounding grazing land in the rural area.

Kevin Dorantes, 20, was in nearby Carrollton when he learned the tornado was bearing down on the Valley View neighborhood where he lived with his father and brother. He called the two of them and told them to take cover in the windowless bathroom, where they rode out the storm and survived unharmed.

Some of his Dorantes’ neighbors weren’t so lucky.

As he wandered through the neighborhood of downed power lines and devastated houses, he came upon a family whose home was reduced to a pile of splintered rubble. A father and son were trapped under debris, and friends and neighbors raced to get them out, Dorantes said.

“They were conscious but severely injured,” Dorantes said. “The father’s leg was snapped.”

WIDESPREAD POWER OUTAGES

The severe weather knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the path of the storms.

More than 100,000 customers in Arkansas were without power Sunday. In neighboring Missouri, more than 100,000 were also without power along the southern state border. Texas reported 57,000 outages while 7,400 were reported in Oklahoma, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us.

Inaccessible roads and downed power lines in Oklahoma also led officials in the town of Claremore, near Tulsa, to announce on social media that the city was “shut down” due to the damage.

MORE SEVERE WEATHER IN FORECAST

The system causing the latest severe weather was expected to move east over the rest of the Memorial Day weekend.

The start of the Indianapolis 500 was delayed as a strong storm pushed into the area, forcing Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials to evacuate about 125,000 race fans. The video boards inside the speedway flashed that a severe thunderstorm warning was in effect as the band of rain, along with dangerous wind and lightning, approached from the west.

More severe storms were predicted in Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky.

The risk of severe weather moves into North Carolina and Virginia on Monday, forecasters said.

___

Associated Press reporters Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H.; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; and Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.

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