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Oklahoma tornadoes: Why did so many people flee their homes Friday?

Several Oklahoma residents got in their vehicles on Friday in an attempt to steer clear of the storms. Questions are being raised about why people didn't stay at home for shelter.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: June 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm •  Published: June 4, 2013

He found the baby near a line of trees by Interstate 40, east of Radio Road.

Somehow, the infant was still alive, even after a tornado had sucked the child out of a car.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper called for help, and help tried to come, fighting through thousands of cars clogging Oklahoma's highways.

His patrol car was out of commission, its windows busted, too damaged from the storm to go anywhere.

He sat with the baby, waiting.

That baby died in the trooper's arms.

“That kind of stuff sticks with you for a while,” patrol spokeswoman Betsy Randolph said.

At least eight of the 18 people who died in Friday's storms were in their vehicles, and questions are being asked whether bad advice led people to flee by car — turning interstates into parking lots — rather than to seek shelter in their homes.

Moore resident Sherri Gambill was one of the many Oklahoma residents who spent hours on Oklahoma's interstates, highways and country roads.

It was about 6 p.m. Friday when Gambill decided she did not want to stay in her house a minute longer.

Gambill and her husband, Gary, have lived in their home for 40 years and have lived through several close calls with tornadoes.

On May 20, Gambill sought shelter in the basement of a friend's workplace.

When she walked out of the shelter that day, she realized she was in the heart of the destruction. On Friday she was hyperventilating and felt she had to get on the road.

Gambill, her husband and daughter headed toward Purcell and took a 100-mile roundtrip to dodge the storm.

They got home at 11:30 p.m. and arrived at a home that didn't end up in the storm's path.

“It was all the emotions and what I had gone through the week before, but it was also the news saying you need to be below ground or leave and get away from this storm,” Gambill said. “I don't say they were reckless — they weren't. I don't think they realized how many people were in an intense panic mode, and it was combined with rush hour traffic.”

“They” refers, in part, to KFOR-4 meteorologist Mike Morgan. On Friday, Morgan warned viewers that, if they were above ground, they needed to “go south.”

“You cannot be above ground in Yukon ... Go south,” he said during the live broadcast. “And you need to go now. And you need to be below ground. Interior closet or bathrooms, not going to do it.”

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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