UPDATE: Death Toll at Nine From Oklahoma City Area Tornadoes, Flooding
UPDATE: 3:11 p.m.
Oklahoma City, OK, (AP) - Emergencyofficials set out Saturday to assess damage from a series of violent storms andtornadoes that killed nine people as it swept through Oklahoma City and itssuburbs with tornadoes, large hail and heavy rain. More than 100 people wereinjured.
Muddy floodwaters stood several feetdeep in the countryside surrounding the metro area. Torrential downpoursfollowed for hours after the twisters moved east, and water damage was reportedat the city's airport. The storms battered a state still reeling after thetop-of-the-scale EF5 tornado that ripped through suburban Moore last month,killing 24 people and decimating neighborhoods.
Water surged hood-high on manystreets, snarling traffic at the worst possible time: Friday's evening commute.Even though several businesses closed early so employees could beat the stormhome, highways were still clogged with motorists worried about a repeat of thechaos in Moore.
Bart Kuester, 50, a truck driverfrom Wisconsin, said he was driving along Interstate 35 past Moore when herealized a dangerous storm was approaching.
"I heard the sirens going offand I could see it coming," he said.
Kuester said the interstate wasflooded and jammed with people trying to outrun the storm.
"Everyone was leaving. ... Justbecause that one that hit Moore was so fresh in their memory," he said.
Though it was in the tornado warningzone, Moore was spared major damage by the storms, but still experienced heavyrain and high wind. A convention center where the town held its graduation inthe days after the storm suffered minor flooding damage, officials said.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Officesaid a man was missing from a vehicle near Harrah, east of Oklahoma City, and apair of sinkholes were reported on each side of the metro area.
When the storm passed between ElReno and Yukon, it barreled right down Interstate 40 for more than two miles,ripping billboards down to twisted metal frames. Debris was tangled in themedian's crossover barriers, including huge pieces of sheet metal, tree limbs,metal pipes, a giant oil drum and a stretch of chain-link fence.
The warped remains of a horsetrailer lay atop a barbed-wire fence less than 50 yards from the highway.
Violent weather also moved through the St. Louisarea. Early aerial images of the storm's damage showed groups of homes withporches ripped away, roofs torn off and piles of splintered wood scatteredacross the ground for blocks. Officials in St. Charles County also reportedthat local schools suffered some damage
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma City area is experiencing flooding in the wake of Friday's storms that inundated the region with several inches of rain.
Aerial images show muddy water covering roadways around Oklahoma City and El Reno, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City.
National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith said Saturday that parts of the Oklahoma City area received 8 inches of rain overnight.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office said Saturday in a news release that several areas are flooded and that deputies helped with more than 10 high-water rescues overnight. The sheriff's office is also searching for a man whose vehicle was found washed off the road.
Emergency officials set out Saturday morning to see how much damage a violent burst of thunderstorms and tornadoes caused as it swept across the Midwest overnight, killing at least five and injuring dozens.
The storm toppled cars and left commuters trapped on an interstate highway as it bore down during Friday's evening rush hour near Oklahoma City. The National Weather Service reported "several" tornadoes rolled in from the prairie, terrifying towns along their paths.
The storms brought another tense day for a region still reeling from the recent top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado that struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on May 20, killing 24 and decimating neighborhoods. Many said they took severe weather warnings issued during the day Friday seriously.
As the storm bore down on suburban Oklahoma City, Adrian Lillard, 28, of The Village, went to the basement of her mother's office building with a friend, her nieces, nephews and two dogs.
"My brother's house was in Moore, so it makes you take more immediate action," Lillard said while her young nieces played on a blanket on the floor of the parking garage. "We brought toys and snacks to try our best to keep them comfortable."
Storm chasers with cameras in their cars transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. As the cell advanced, police urged motorists to leave I-40 and seek a safe place.
Violent weather also moved through the St. Louis area, ripping part of the roof off a suburban casino. Early aerial images of the storm's damage showed homes with porches ripped away, roofs torn off and piles of splintered wood scattered across the ground for blocks. Officials in St. Charles County also reported that local schools suffered some damage.
Among the five dead were a mother and a baby found in a vehicle in Oklahoma. Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said early Saturday that she had no immediate word of additional fatalities. At least 75 people were hurt, five critically, hospital officials said.
Meteorologists had warned about particularly nasty weather Friday but said the storm's fury didn't match that of the tornado that struck Moore. The Friday storm, however, brought with it much more severe flooding. It dumped around 7 inches of rain on Oklahoma City in the span of a few hours and made the tornado difficult to spot for motorists trying to beat it home, said Bruce Thoren, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Norman.
"Some tornadoes are wrapped in rain, so it's basically impossible to see, which is extremely dangerous," Thoren said. "Somebody driving along really not familiar with what's going on can basically drive into it."
The heavy rain and hail hampered rescue efforts in Oklahoma City. Frequent lightning roiled the skies well after the main threat had moved east. Highways and streets were clogged late into the night as motorists worked their way around flooded portions of the city.
Will Rogers World Airport said flights wouldn't resume until later Saturday, after debris was cleared from runways.
Emergency officials reported that numerous injuries occurred in the area along I-40, and Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area. Troopers requested a number of ambulances at I-40 near Yukon, west of Oklahoma City.
Standing water was several feet deep, and in some places it looked more like a hurricane had passed through than a tornado. More than 86,000 utility customers were without power.
Among the injured was Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes, who suffered minor injuries when his "tornado hunt" SUV that he and two photographers were riding in was thrown 200 yards by a twister. The Weather Channel said all of the people in the vehicle were able to walk away, and that it was the first time a network personality was injured in a storm.
In Missouri, the combination of high water and fallen power lines closed dozen of roads, snarling traffic on highways and side streets in the St. Louis area. At the Hollywood Casino in suburban of Maryland Heights, gamblers rushed from the floor as a storm blew out windows and tore off part of the roof.
Rich Gordon, of Jefferson City, said he was on the casino floor when he heard a loud "boom."
"I didn't know if it was lightning or what, but it was loud," Gordon said.
The U.S. averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year and most are relatively small. Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes to hit since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been hit the most - seven times each.
National Weather Service meteorologists said Saturday that it's unclear how many tornadoes touched down as part of the Friday evening storm system. Dozens of tornado warnings were issued for central Oklahoma and parts of Missouri, especially near St. Louis, they said, but crews must assess the damage before determining whether it was caused by tornadoes or severe thunderstorms.
But one thing is certain: The chances for severe weather are on the decline as a cold front moves through the region, said weather service meteorologist Gene Hatch in Springfield, Mo.
This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keepingfunnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.
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