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!' "
Oklahoma County commissioners declared a state of emergency, and Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys said he was trying to contact Gov. Frank Keating on Monday night to discuss possible state and federal emergency assistance.
"If this is not a disaster, then I don't know what is," Humphreys said, just before leaving to survey the damage.
About 275 Oklahoma National Guard troops were activated Monday night to provide security and other assistance.
Gov. Keating promised to provide whatever assistance was necessary. Keating is expected to survey the storm damage early today.
James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he also will be in Oklahoma City today to assess the destruction.
While the fiercest tornado stayed on the ground more than an hour and devastated Moore and southwest Oklahoma City, several other tornadoes were busy causing damage to Strecker in Caddo County, Stroud in Lincoln County and several towns in between.
Stroud officials reported widespread destruction.
"We have search and rescue teams all over the place. I couldn't tell you what all has happened," said a Lincoln County sheriff's deputy, who added that Davenport was also extensively damaged.
"The (Tanger) Mall and (Stroud) hospital were severely damaged," a Chandler police dispatcher said.
As the storm moved into the metro, the Oklahoma City School District opened all its schools for storm shelters.
Forecasters said the tornado would register as an F-5, the strongest classifications for twisters.
"It's the worse I've ever seen," said Oklahoma City police dispatcher John Zondol. "It's far worse than last summer's," he said, referring to a June tornado that caused extensive damage but no fatalities in northwest Oklahoma City.
"We are getting so many injuries we are just tagging them and bringing them in," said Shara Findley, a spokeswoman for Hillcrest Health Center in Oklahoma City. "We're getting everything you can think of."
She said she had seen no deaths, but about 100 people had been brought in by 8:30 p.m.
The massive twister destroyed homes and other buildings as it moved through southwest Oklahoma City into Moore and then through the Midwest City area, near Tinker Air Force Base.
Twisted and crumpled cars littered Interstate 40 and Interstate 35.
Authorities asked for buses to transport the walking wounded.
Two miles north of Chickasha, a tornado tore a path across U.S. 81, peeling the metal skins off two of three football field-size hangers at the Chickasha Municipal Airport. Planes inside the hangers were turned upside down.
No injuries were reported, although access to a damaged trailer park nearby was closed by police.
Jim Wustrack's home was 100 yards south of the Chickasha airport.
Except for the roof of his indoor pool, Wustrack's home was unscathed. A crop-spraying service to the east and across U.S. 81 was flattened. A trailer park to the south also was damaged.
A dispatcher at the Caddo County sheriff's office said a 7-year-old girl was seriously injured when a tornado struck the community of Stecker just before dusk.
There were also reports of several children injured at Verden, west of Chickasha, when a tornado touched down there.
Chaos reigned Monday night in the Bridge Creek and Newcastle area.
"Lots of families are not accounted for. Lots of people are missing," said Doug King, former assistant fire chief. "Hundreds of people are walking around and don't know where to go."
One woman rushed in and out of the Newcastle police station yelling, "I am trying to find my son."
"People are finding out that there homes have blown away," said John Quinton of the Newcastle police department.
The tornado destroyed the home of John Canary of the Newcastle street department.
"First thing I need to do is go to Wal-Mart and buy some shoes," he said.
City worker Mike Henshaw said, "It sucked the gravel clean off the road."
Staff writers Bob Doucette, Diana Baldwin, Robert Medley, Paul English, John Greiner, Mick Hinton, Ron Jackson, Charles T. Jones, Mark Hutchison, Bobby Ross, Melissa Nelson, Christy Watson, David Zizzo and Ed Godfrey contributed to this report.Archive ID: 761585