TORNADOES SHRED STATE At Least 25 Killed; 1,000 Homes Destroyed in City Area Fierce Storms Flatten Entire Subdivisions

Randy Ellis Published: May 4, 1999
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An evening of terror gripped Oklahoma on Monday as tornado after tornado battered the state with a ferocity that stunned even seasoned storm veterans.

Authorities confirmed there were at least 25 Oklahoma deaths and hundreds of injuries, but the vastness of the destruction and seemingly endless barrage of tornadoes left officials unable to determine the exact number of dead or injured.

One of the fiercest tornadoes - at least a half-mile wide - roared through Bridge Creek, Moore, southwest Oklahoma City and Midwest City at dusk, annihilating entire subdivisions.

Eight fatalities were reported in Bridge Creek, about 30 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.

Eight more were confirmed dead in Oklahoma City, three in Moore and four in Midwest City.

Sgt. Jody Suit confirmed two dead in Del City; one of those victims died at Norman Regional Hospital. Suit estimated 750 houses were heavily damaged or destroyed in Del City.

"I got lost in a neighborhood I've driven around for 10 years because there's no landmarks anymore," Suit said. "Out of one square mile, I'd say about one-fourth of it is gone."

Tornadoes also struck near Wichita, Kan., killing at least 10 and injuring more than 60 there. The worst Kansas damage was reported in Haysville and south Wichita.

Oklahoma officials estimated 1,000 homes were destroyed in and around the Oklahoma City metro area. Electricity was knocked out to 60,000.

Local hospitals were jammed with bleeding victims and an instant triage center was set up at the First Baptist Church of Moore, located just north of one of the hardest hit neighborhoods. The church choir room was converted to a make-shift morgue.

Jon Hansen, Oklahoma City assistant fire chief, said firefighters were feverishly searching through the rubble for more victims, a search he expected to last all night.

The National Guard and a front-end loader were brought in from Oklahoma City to assist.

"Homes and apartments look like they have been picked up and thrown to the ground," Hansen said. "Cars are twisted and torn like model cars. Cars are sitting inside where houses used to be."

Several apartment complexes in south Oklahoma City were reduced to rubble, and police were pulling injured people out of the debris of what was once the Emerald Springs Apartments in south Oklahoma City.

"We sent dogs in there to see if there was anyone who couldn't call out to us," Oklahoma City police Lt. David Fredrickson said. "We have some bodies (fatalities) and pulled some out alive.... I've worked 20 years in Oklahoma City and this is the worst tornado I have ever seen."

"It looked like a war zone," said Jim Primble, a resident of the apartment complex. "It was the Oklahoma City bombing all over again."

The tornado also destroyed about 100 homes in the Country Place Estates along SW 134 between Pennsylvania and May avenues, said Oklahoma City Fire District Chief Glenn Clark.

The tornado touched off a fire at GFF Foods center at 1219 N Santa Fe in Moore.

At the First Baptist Church of Moore, victims wandered around in stunned disbelief as wounded were brought to the church's triage center in ambulances and the beds of pickups.

It was a surreal scene as another portion of the church was instantly transformed into a shelter for the newly homeless.

People dragged suitcases, strollers, animals and family members into the church. Others arrived carrying the oddest things. One person carried fishing poles and a jacket. Another had a birdcage.

Victims told stories of terror and salvation.

"We said a prayer that God would watch over us," said Sherrie Conley, recalling how she, her husband and two sons had huddled in their hallway linen closet for protection.

When they emerged from the closet, they discovered it was the only thing left standing in their home at 1033 SW 126. In fact, the entire Eastlake housing addition was destroyed.

Linda Kinder, 48, said she hid in a closet of her Moore Highland Park subdivision home when the tornado struck.

"It sounded like something was bulldozing through, and I heard the roof coming off. All I could say was, 'Oh, God!' "

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