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Friday tornado could be first taste of a tornado outbreak expected Saturday

Officials are warning of a high risk for tornadoes and other severe weather in Oklahoma on Saturday. The Oklahoma City metro is included in an area deemed at the highest risk.
BY JULIANA KEEPING AND JANE GLENN CANNON Modified: April 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm •  Published: April 13, 2012

A tornado that cut through the heart of Norman on Friday could be the first taste of a major outbreak expected Saturday in Oklahoma.

The Friday tornado cut a roughly eight-mile path, dropping down about 4 p.m. near southwest Norman at Interstate 35 and W Lindsey Street. It hop-scotched through the center of town, tossing telephone poles, shredding trees, ripping the roofs off buildings and raking a park near the city's municipal complex before fading out in the northeast side of the city.

At least 10 people were taken to Norman Regional Hospital with minor injuries like scrapes and bruises, said Kelly Wells, hospital spokeswoman.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey said three individuals were taken to the hospital via ambulance, including two who were in a vehicle when the tornado hit and another person hit by debris.

“It is surprising you don't have more injured with the time of day, about 4:02,” Bailey said. “Norman is a busy town. There were a lot of people out driving around, and we had very little notification.”

On alert

Atmospheric conditions Saturday will be ripe for tornadoes and other severe weather, according to the National Weather Service.

“The bottom line is, be ready for it. It may happen in one place, or it may happen across a huge part of the state, but it only takes one tornado and one storm,” said Rick Smith, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Severe thunderstorms are possible throughout the state Saturday, but the Oklahoma City area and most of the middle third of the state are in an area deemed at the highest risk.

Storms are expected to form in the late afternoon or early evening and track across the state, forecasters said. Tornadoes, damaging straight-line winds, lightning, hail and flooding rain are possible.

“If everything comes together like it could, it could be a serious situation for parts of Oklahoma,” Smith said.

‘There was a roar'

In Norman on Friday, the University of Oklahoma had no reports of damage, a spokeswoman said, but other areas weren't so lucky.

Smith said the most significant structural damage was found near the health system at N Porter Avenue and E Robinson Street. Bailey said the tornado ripped the trees out at Andrews Park near the municipal complex.

Philip DeFatta, owner of Leon Pierce Body Shop, 521 N Porter, said he took cover inside his shop. While he did not hear the tornado, he heard the medical records building next door explode.

“It's gone,” he said. “The roof's gone. It's all over the place. The front wall is down. Part of it is in my building.”

He said the storm moved around cars in his parking lot, but his auto repair building is intact.

“There's wood and bricks all over the street out in front of us. It's isolated right here,” he said.

DeFatta said he does not believe anyone was in the medical records building when it was hit.

“The police have been all through it, looking,” he said.

The tornado downed power lines, trapping numerous motorists in their cars on 24th Avenue SW between W Lindsey Street and W Brooks Street.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and worked to the downed power lines and free the trapped motorists in the area.

Residents said there was very little warning before the tornado.

Robert Ruiz, of Norman, said he and his family had about three minutes between the time they heard the announcement to seek shelter and the time the storm hit downtown.

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