At least eight people were killed and dozens more injured after multiple tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma on Tuesday, including a massive twister that left a trail of damage 50 miles long.
Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said the death toll has risen to eight. About 6 a.m. Wednesday morning she learned from a hospital that a child has died. She did not know in what county or hospital the child died.Ballard also said the fatalities include four deaths in Canadian County, two deaths in Logan County, one death in Grady County and the child's death.
There were reports of fatalities in other parts of the state, but those were unconfirmed, Ballard said. At least four major tornadoes touched down, causing damage from Grady County northeast to Logan County, National Weather Service forecasters said.
At least three of the fatalities in Canadian County were on Interstate 40 near mile marker 113 where cars were blown off the highway, authorities said.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Chris West said troopers were still working to identify the victims late Tuesday. He said some of the victims were found 300 to 400 yards from abandoned vehicles.
Authorities have not released the names, ages or genders of the deceased.
Witnesses said four cars on I-40 were torn apart by the twister, and the highway was littered with car parts. A tractor-trailer was also severely damaged, but the driver survived.
In Chickasha, Calhoun said, 10 mobile homes in the Watson Mobile Home Park were destroyed and several others damaged.
From there the tornado traveled to the Winds of Oak Ridge Apartments, damaging four apartments. It also took the roof off the Grand First Assembly of God and hit Chickasha Square Shopping Centre, damaging a Dollar General and other businesses.
Calhoun said several homes in the nearby community of Friend were leveled.
Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement Tuesday saying she is in constant contact with emergency management officials.
“I know local authorities are doing everything they can to respond to the storm and keep our citizens safe,” Fallin said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those already affected by these storms. I am asking all Oklahomans to stay aware of the weather and to take proper precautions to keep themselves out of harm's way.”
Large tornado tracks through five counties
Much of the damage Tuesday came from one large tornado that touched down north of Lookeba in Caddo County and moved northeast into Canadian County, where it killed people on I-40 and destroyed homes and businesses west and north of El Reno.
The twister destroyed more homes in the Piedmont area and caused serious injuries before it moved into southeastern Kingfisher County, damaging homes south of Cashion, and continued into Logan County, causing more damage. The storm continued to cause damage into Payne County near Stillwater.
Smith said numerous injuries were reported along I-40 near El Reno. Lara O'Leary, spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority, said three children were critically injured in Piedmont and were taken to a hospital.
Authorities also reported a gas line explosion in El Reno.
Tom and Carla Chronister took cover at their business, Festivities in El Reno. They went home after the storm cleared and found their house at 4110 N Highway 81 in ruins.
“It took everything far, far away,” Tom Chronister said.
Carla Chronister had parked her new car in the garage, hoping to spare it from hail. The twister wrapped it in a tree and the three-car garage is in smithereens.
Tom Chronister said no one was home except their two dogs and three cats. They found two of their pets alive and were searching for the others.
Piedmont resident Diane Smith said the family took shelter in a shelter at their home on State Highway 3 and hoped for the best.
“It was extremely loud,” Smith said. “We went to the bathroom and pulled a mattress over us and said a prayer. My son's alive. My husband's alive and my dog is alive. So you've got to be thankful for that.”
Smith's son, Coulton Parker, 16, said he saw the tornado coming.
“Out of nowhere our ears just popped,” he said. “We walked outside and it wasn't even recognizable.
The family's two separate two-car garages were destroyed, but the cars were still sitting inside what was left of the garages.
“It was very said,” Smith said. “It was overwhelming more than anything. I guess we're going to have to find a rent house and we're going to have to rebuild.”
Members of two Boy Scout troops and wrestlers from Piedmont wrestling teams were helping the family and their friends sift through debris.
Power lines were also down in the area, making some roads impassable.
The tornado destroyed three homes, a farm equipment barn and an airplane hanger along State Highway 74 south of State Highway 33 in Guthrie.
The same tornado moved through Cashion. A fire dispatcher there said numerous homes were destroyed on the south side of town.
Larry McDuffey, Caddo County emergency management director, said about half a dozen people were treated for minor cuts and bruises north of Lookeba, where the tornado first touched down.
“We probably lost half a dozen homes either damaged or destroyed,” McDuffey said. “Power lines are down. Trees uprooted. Livestock damaged.”
Minor damage was reported in the Stillwater area as the storm made its way northeast.
Multiple twisters cause injuries
Several other tornadoes also touched down, causing damage and injuries.
The same tornado that claimed a life in Chickasha moved into McClain County, and did damage in the Newcastle area.
Another tornado touched down southeast of Chickasha near Bradley and moved into McClain County where Goldsby Emergency Management Director Greg Giltner said there was significant damage on State Highway 74 toward Washington.
“We have houses that are flattened,” Giltner said. “We're going to have some injuries.”
In Washington, highway patrol Capt. Ronnie Hampton said seven houses were destroyed and several people were taken to a hospital.
The Goldsby Baptist Church was being used as a shelter.
Another tornado damaged a mobile home park and camping area near Canton Lake in Blaine County. A sheriff's dispatcher said an area on the northwest side of Canton Lake was “pretty much gone.”
She said a mobile home park and campers were in the area. One person who got trapped in a trailer was taken to a local hospital.
That tornado traveled northwest toward the Fairview area in Major County. A Fairview police dispatcher said there were reports of damage west of town on State Highway 60. The dispatcher said Cedar Springs Church and a couple of homes were damaged.
The National Weather Service in Norman warned in unusually strong terms earlier in the day that the threat for severe weather in the Oklahoma City area and much of the state was high. Those warnings proved accurate as the first tornadoes hit after 3 p.m. and continued through the evening.