Those who lost homes in Tuesday's tornadoes picked through the remnants of their lives Wednesday as the death toll from the storms continued to climb.
Nine people have died from storm-related injuries, officials said. The search continued Wednesday for a missing 3-year-old boy in the Piedmont area whose 15-month-old brother was among the dead.
The dead include:
• Cole Hamil, 15 months, of Piedmont.
• Laron Short, 24, of Chickasha.
Three people, a man and two women, were killed along Interstate 40 two miles west of the Calumet exit in Canadian County. Nearby, a teenage girl and a 22-year-old man were killed near U.S. 66 and Courtney Road. A 63-year-old man and a 58-year-old woman were killed near Cashion in far southwest Logan County. Authorities are still trying to identify some of the victims and have not released the names of others pending the notification of their families.
National Weather Service officials said at least seven tornadoes struck Oklahoma on Tuesday, leaving paths of destruction that ranged from four to 75 miles.
Weather teams were still in the field assessing damage Wednesday, but officials said preliminary information shows four of the tornadoes will be rated at least EF3, which means they had wind speeds of at least 136 to 165 miles per hour.
The number of confirmed tornadoes and EF ratings could increase as more information is gathered, officials said.
Short's aunt, Donna Gunkel, combed through the wreckage of a mobile home in Chickasha on Wednesday, searching for photographs and other mementos of her niece, who was killed when a tornado hit while she was visiting her mother.
“She was just trying to take care of her mama,” Gunkel said. “They didn't have a vehicle and no place to go. She just stepped out on the porch to see what was happening, and the trailer next door just blew on top of her.”
Gunkel said Short's family is devastated by the loss.
“She was an all-around good Christian girl. She just got home from a trip night before last. She was so happy to be home,” Gunkel said.
A tornado moved through Chickasha about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, hitting a mobile home park, an apartment complex and several businesses on the city's east side.
Aaron Bird was in an upstairs apartment with his two daughters, ages 4 and 9, when he heard the storm approach.
A neighbor began screaming at him to “bring them down here,” he said. “I thank God I chose to take my kids downstairs at the last minute, because otherwise we might have been killed or seriously injured.”
When the tornado passed, Bird stepped outside the downstairs apartment to find his unit destroyed. A baby bed hung precariously off the floor, and the walls were gone.
In Canadian County, family and friends mourned the loss of Cole Hamil, 15 months, even as they continued to search for his missing brother, Ryan, 3. Their mother, Catherine, huddled with the two boys and their older sister, Cathleen, in a bathtub as the storm hit their home near Waterloo Road and N County Line.
Both Catherine and Cathleen remained hospitalized Wednesday. The family has set up a Facebook page asking people to pray that Ryan Hamil is found safe.
Piedmont Mayor Valerie Thomerson said searchers have not given up hope.
“Right now we're focusing on a search and rescue effort for a very frightened but a very much alive young man,” she said.
Identifying the bodies of the three motorists found near I-40 is proving difficult because the victims, who were thrown from their vehicles, did not have identifying information, Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards said.
“It will be like putting pieces of a puzzle together,” Edwards said.
A dozen or more vehicles in the area were flipped and tossed from the highway, Edwards said. Several cars were shredded, and car parts littered the highway.
Officials are also trying to identify a teenage girl who was found dead near State Highway 66 and Courtney Road, Edwards said. The girl was traveling with two others, a male and a female, who were taken to nearby medical centers, Edwards said.
The 22-year-old man later died from injuries, Edwards said.
Authorities have not released the names of a 63-year-old man and a 58-year-old woman who were killed near Cashion, nor the circumstances of their deaths.
State of emergency
Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Wednesday for almost the entire state after tornadoes, severe storms, straight line winds and flooding caused widespread damage.
Fallin's emergency declaration covers 68 of the state's 77 counties. Fallin said tornadoes caused damage in at least 14 counties.
“We're still analyzing how many communities were hit,” Fallin said after taking an aerial tour over much of the damage.
Fallin said she received a phone call Wednesday from U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano who expressed her condolences for those killed and injured by the tornadoes and offered federal support.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the state's price-gouging statute is in effect for the 68 counties in the governor's emergency declaration. The law prohibits an increase of more than 10 percent in the price of most goods and services when a state of emergency has been declared.