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Oklahoma storms: Death toll rises to at least 16; some still missing

The search continues in Oklahoma City for people missing after Friday's storm: Seven from two families were swept into a drainage canal as floodwaters rose, friends and family say.
by William Crum Modified: June 3, 2013 at 11:06 am •  Published: June 2, 2013

At least 16 people, including five children, were dead and the search continued Sunday for more victims of tornadoes and floodwaters that swept through the Oklahoma City area Friday night.

A man, woman and two children from one family and a woman and two children from another were swept away after taking refuge beneath a bridge, according to a family member.

Authorities said the bodies of five of the seven had been found by late Sunday.

In addition, firefighters searched for four people unaccounted for near Interstate 44 and SW 15, by the Dell computer campus on the Oklahoma River.

Victims included Colorado storm chaser Tim Samaras, who starred in The Discovery Channel's show “Storm Chasers,” reported the Denver Post.

Four children and nine adults were confirmed dead in Friday's storms, said Amy Elliott, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office.

Five of the 13 had not been identified, she said; no names or other details were released.

Law enforcement identified two other victims, and Oklahoma City firefighters said the body of a 4-year-old boy was found late Sunday.

Two from the party of seven and the four along the Oklahoma River remained missing.

According to OG&E System Watch, 24,920 Oklahoma City metro-area customers were without power at sundown Sunday.

James C. Talbert died after he drove off a washed out bridge at E Hefner and N Dobbs roads in eastern Oklahoma County early Saturday, the Oklahoma County sheriff's office reported.

Dorenia Akins, 69, of Clearview, drowned Saturday morning after driving into flooding Alabama Creek, south of Clearview on an Okfuskee County road, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported.

‘Long-term incident'

More than 20 people searched Sunday along the Deep Fork River for members of the two doomed families.

“We believe all were lost,” Octavio Aguilar said.

The families were worried about the storm and were afraid of the tornadoes, especially after the EF5 tornado that struck May 20. The seven left home and sought shelter above a drainage canal, then were swept away when the high waters came, he said.

Oklahoma City firefighters confirmed they had recovered the four bodies on Sunday: a man, an 8-year-old boy and two 4-year-old boys.

They were believed to be among the seven who took shelter in the storm drain near NW 26 and Tudor Road, west of Meridian Avenue.

Family members called the fire department about 5 p.m. Saturday after they couldn't find them, Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said.

Firefighters found one woman Saturday night in a drainage tunnel; the other four were in the Deep Fork River, he said.

In addition, fire officials searched for the four people missing near the Oklahoma River.

Woodard said four were taking shelter from a tornado in a storm drain.

The Oklahoma City Police Department's Air One and officers assisted.

Firefighters planned to suspend their searches at dusk and resume at daylight.

“We have got crews in every mile section, going up and down the river embankment, checking for any kind of signs,” Woodard said. “This is will be a long-term incident. We will probably be out here for at least a couple more days or until we find everybody and everybody is accounted for.”

Woodard said the fire department notified Edmond because the Deep Fork feeds into Arcadia Lake.

Edmond fire officials were searching the areas from that lake to the Oklahoma City limits.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. workers had wrapped up damage assessment and started the reconstruction phase, OG&E spokeswoman Kathleen O'Shea said.

“This is kind of a completely different situation from the tornado in Moore,” O'Shea said.

She said the “damage is very extensive and widespread, and it's not isolated to one single area. It's going to take a little bit longer because of that.”

Other utility companies sent additional crews into the area to help OG&E with restoration as part of a mutual assistance system, she said.

“We are hoping we can make a dent today and really big dent tomorrow,” O'Shea said.

Storm chasers

Tim Samaras, 55, of Bennett, Colo., his son Paul, 24, and Carl Young, 45, were among the dead.

A tornado in El Reno made a sudden turn toward the chasers, according to weather website, TheWeatherSpace.com.

On Facebook, Samaras' brother, Jim Samaras, said the three died doing what they loved.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman said Samaras and his companions were involved in tornado research.

They traveled the Great Plains in search of bad weather, hoping to warn people ahead of tornadoes and to help meteorologists understand the natural disasters.

The three died when an EF3 tornado with winds up to 165 mph hit.

“They put themselves in harm's way so that they can educate the public about the destructive power of these storms,” Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West said of the men Sunday after Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin turned out to view damage in his area.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tim Samaras his son, Paul, and their colleague Carl Young. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families,” The Discovery Channel spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said.

Samaras began chasing storms two decades ago, a National Geographic biography said.

Samaras was the field coordinator for TWISTEX — a tornado research experiment he founded.

Samaras also designed probes to measure tornado strength, and was considered an expert in high-speed camera imaging, according to TWISTEX website.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Samaras was “a respected tornado researcher and friend of NOAA who brought to the field a unique portfolio of expertise in engineering, science, writing and videography.”

NOAA said that, to its knowledge, the deaths were the first documented scientific storm intercept fatalities in a tornado.

Contributing: Staff Writers LeighAnne Manwarren and Matt Dinger, Photographer Paul Hellstern, the Denver Post, The Associated Press

by William Crum
Reporter
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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