Twister's toll becomes clearer in Oklahoma

Fatality count drops but damage reports continue to pour in to state officials. Gov. Brad Henry declares a state of emergency for 56 counties.

FROM STAFF REPORTS Modified: May 12, 2010 at 10:08 am •  Published: May 12, 2010

/> Holly Starkey, 29, was at her home near Highland Road when she heard television reports of a tornado headed her way. Starkey and her 61-year-old mother ran into a bathroom for cover.

When she closed the bathroom door, she was thrown back against the wall and onto the floor.

"I was just looking down and praying,” she said. "I thought if I looked up the worst would happen.”

Starkey and her family worked Tuesday to remove belongings they could salvage from the destroyed home.

"It was so fast,” Starkey said. "Thirty seconds took everything.”

About five houses to the west of Starkey’s on Highland Road, 75-year-old Mary Clark looked around counting her blessings. A large tree, more than two feet in diameter, was uprooted and split in half, crushing her neighbor’s car.

"It was like the famous freight train they always talk about,” she said. "That’s exactly what it sounded like.”

Clark’s home was only slightly damaged by a tree limb that had fallen on the roof of her garage.

"I don’t know how all of this happened around us,” she said, surveying her neighborhood. Decimated homes like Starkey’s were steps away from homes that appeared to have little damage.

Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City’s main water treatment plant remained without power Tuesday, leaving many across the southern metro area with low water pressure or no water at all.

The water shortage prompted most metro- area cities to enact outdoor watering bans. Residents were ordered to cease outdoor watering and turn off sprinkler systems.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Brian Alford said he expected power to be restored by late Tuesday to the Lake Stanley Draper water treatment plant, which supplies half the city’s water.

However, city officials were unsure how long it would take to restart the water filtering processes that were halted by the power outage. The filtering makes water safe to drink.

"I can’t remember a time when it (the plant) just shut down like this,” Oklahoma City utilities spokeswoman Debbie Ragan said. "There will have to be a process of restarting pumps.”

Oklahoma City water utility crews rerouted water from the city’s Lake Hefner and Lake Overholser plants to the southern metro area, but many customers were still without water Tuesday, Ragan said.

Tuesday’s weather
While crews were still out assessing Monday’s damage, a tornado watch was issued by the Norman forecast office for some counties in central, northwest, southwest and western Oklahoma.

Severe weather is likely in Oklahoma again today. Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman, said there may be more warnings today, but the intensity of the storms will not be as great.

Oklahoma County has now had at least 100 tornadoes since 1950, according to the weather service.

Before Monday, there had been only three tornadoes in the state this year. That’s the slowest start in terms of tornadoes since officials began keeping statistics in 1950, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Oklahoma averages 53 tornadoes a year. The average for May is about 20. Last year, Oklahoma had only four confirmed tornadoes in May.

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Twisters’ toll

Deaths: At least three died, including a woman who died of a heart attack while trying to get to a storm shelter. State emergency management workers have said there were six deaths, including the heart attack victim, but the state medical examiner’s office has confirmed only three.

Injuries: More than 100 people were treated at Oklahoma hospitals for storm-related injuries. At least five were hospitalized in critical condition, according to hospital officials.

Tornadoes: More than a dozen tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma during Monday’s outbreak, according to the National Weather Service in Norman. They occurred along a path stretching from the Red River to the Kansas-Oklahoma state line.

Warnings: The weather service in Norman issued 31 tornado warnings and 19 severe thunderstorm warnings Monday.

Damage: The state Department of Emergency Management reported more than 100 homes and 40 businesses destroyed and more than 130 homes damaged.

State of emergency: Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency for 56 Oklahoma counties: Alfalfa, Atoka, Beaver, Blaine, Bryan, Caddo, Canadian, Carter, Cleveland, Coal, Comanche, Cotton, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant, Harper, Haskell, Hughes, Jefferson, Johnston, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Marshall, Mayes, McIntosh, McClain, Murray, Muskogee, Noble, Okfuskee, Oklahoma, Okmulgee, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Payne, Pontotoc, Pottawatomie, Rogers, Seminole, Sequoyah, Stephens, Tillman, Tulsa, Washita and Woodward.

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