Frightened Okla. residents opt to flee tornadoes

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm •  Published: June 1, 2013
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — It's a warning as familiar as a daily prayer for Tornado Alley residents: When a twister approaches, take shelter in a basement or low-level interior room or closet, away from windows and exterior walls.

But with the powerful devastation from the May 20 twister that killed 24 and pummeled the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore still etched in their minds, many Oklahomans instead opted to flee Friday night when a violent tornado developed and headed toward the state's capital city.

It was a dangerous decision to make.

Interstates and roadways already packed with rush-hour traffic quickly became parking lots as people tried to escape the oncoming storm. Motorists were trapped in their vehicles — a place emergency officials say is one of the worst to be in a tornado.

"It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives," said Terri Black, 51, a teacher's assistant in Moore.

After seeing last month's tornado also turn homes into piles of splintered rubble, Black said she decided to try and outrun the tornado when she learned her southwest Oklahoma City home was in harm's way. She quickly regretted it.

When she realized she was a sitting duck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Black turned around and found herself directly in the path of the most violent part of the storm.

"My car was actually lifted off the road and then set back down," Black said. "The trees were leaning literally to the ground. The rain was coming down horizontally in front of my car. Big blue trash cans were being tossed around like a piece of paper in the wind.

"I'll never do it again."

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said the roadways were quickly congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents.

"They had no place to go, and that's always a bad thing. They were essentially targets just waiting for a tornado to touch down," Randolph said. "I'm not sure why people do that sort of stuff, but it is very dangerous. It not only puts them in harm's way, but it adds to the congestion. It really is a bad idea for folks to do."

At least nine people were killed in Friday's storms, including a mother and her baby sucked out of their car as a deadly EF3 twister tore its way along a packed Interstate 40 near the town of El Reno, about 30 miles from Oklahoma City.

A 4-year-old boy died after being swept into the Oklahoma River on the south side of Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma City police Lt. Jay Barnett. The boy and other family members had sought shelter in a drainage ditch.

More than 100 people were injured, most of those from punctures and lacerations from swirling debris, emergency officials reported.

A total of five tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City metro area, the National Weather Service said.

Oklahoma wasn't the only state to see violent weather on Friday night. In Missouri, areas west of St. Louis received significant damage from an EF3 tornado that packed estimated winds of 150 mph. In St. Charles County, at least 71 homes were heavily damaged and 100 had slight to moderate damage, county spokeswoman Colene McEntee said.



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