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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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

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