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Storms Hit Oklahoma City, Rake Over Moore

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email
A tornado touches down near El Reno, Okla., Friday, May 31, 2013, causing damage to structures and injuring travelers on Interstate 40.
/ The Omaha World-Herald,AP Photo, Chris Machian

A tornado touches down near El Reno, Okla., Friday, May 31, 2013, causing damage to structures and injuring travelers on Interstate 40. / The Omaha World-Herald,AP Photo, Chris Machian

CBS Web Copy

Updated at 10:21 p.m. ET

OKLAHOMA CITY Tornadoes rolled in from the prairie and slammed Oklahoma City and its suburbs on Friday, killing a mother and baby and crumbling cars and tractor-trailers along a major interstate.

The broad storm hit during the evening rush hour, causing havoc on Interstate 40, a major artery connecting suburbs east and west of the city. To the south, winds approaching 80 mph were forecast for Moore, where a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado killed 24 on May 20.

Floodwaters up to 4 feet deep hampered rescue attempts and frequent lightning roiled the skies well after the main threat had passed to the east.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said troopers found the bodies of a woman and an infant near their vehicle. Randolph said it's not known if the woman was driving into the storm when it hit around 7 p.m. Friday.

Emergency officials reported numerous injuries were reported in the area along I-40, and Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area. Troopers requested a number of ambulances at I-40 near Yukon, west of Oklahoma City.

"I'm in a car running from the tornado," said Amy Sharp, who last week pulled her fourth-grade daughter from the Plaza Towers Elementary School as a storm approached with 210 mph winds. "I'm in Norman and it just hit Yukon where I was staying" since last week's storm.

"I'm with my children who wanted their mother out of that town," Sharp said, her voice quivering with emotion.

Hail and heavy rain pelted the metro area to the point that emergency workers had trouble responding to "widespread" reports of injuries.

"We're scrambling around," said Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for the local ambulance agency. "There is very low visibility with the heavy rain ... so we're having trouble getting around.

"The damage is very, very widespread."

Tornado warnings were also posted Friday night near Tulsa and near St. Louis.

In Oklahoma, storm chasers with cameras in their cars transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. Police urged motorists to leave I-40 and seek a safe place.

"Our big concern is to get people off the highways and get them safe," Gov. Mary Fallin told CNN.

"I'm in a car running from the tornado," said Amy Sharp, who last week pulled her fourth-grade daughter from the Plaza Towers Elementary School as a storm approached with 210 mph winds. "I'm in Norman and it just hit Yukon where I was staying" since last week's storm.

"I'm with my children who wanted their mother out of that town," Sharp said, her voice quivering with emotion.

At Will Rogers World Airport southwest of Oklahoma City, passengers were directed into underground tunnels and inbound and outbound flights were canceled.

Television cameras showed debris falling from the sky and power transformers being knocked out by high winds.

As the storm bore down on suburban Oklahoma City, Adrian Lillard, 28, of The Village, went to the basement of her mother's office building with a friend, her nieces, nephews and two dogs.

"My brother's house was in Moore, so it makes you take more immediate action," Lillard said while her young nieces played on a blanket on the floor of the parking garage. "We brought toys and snacks to try our best to keep them comfortable."

Well before Oklahoma's first thunderstorms fired up at late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman was already forecasting a violent evening. From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents were told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.

Forecasters warned of a "particularly dangerous situation," with ominous language about strong tornadoes and hail the size of grapefruits -- 4 inches in diameter.

CBS News weather consultant David Bernard reported Friday evening that unfortunately, we have those tornado watches in some of the same places we've had them from the last couple of nights. Most of them right now are located in Oklahoma, also into southeastern Kansas, and a good chunk of southwestern and central Missouri, numerous severe thunderstorms ongoing right now -- also a severe thunderstorm watch covering eastern Minnesota and a good portion of northern and central portions of Wisconsin.

Looking ahead to Saturday, Bernard continued, we have a wide area of potential severe weather extending from central and north Texas right through the Missouri River valley into the Midwest, as far north as Michigan and extending as far east it looks like as portions of Ohio.

Earlier, flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas as powerful storms swept through the nation's midsection, including a local sheriff who drowned while checking on residents whose house was eventually swamped by rising water, authorities said Friday. Three other people are missing.

The storms rolled across the region overnight, and more bad weather was poised to strike Friday, with tornadoes and baseball-sized hail forecast from Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Flooding also is a concern in parts of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois through Sunday.

Torrential rain, including at least 6 inches in the rugged terrain of western Arkansas, posed the greatest danger the night before. In Y City, about 125 miles west of Little Rock, the Fourche La Fave River rose 24 feet in just 24 hours.

"The water just comes off that hill like someone is pouring a bucket in there," said Danny Straessle, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation. "This was an incredible amount of water."

Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter died while trying to check on local residents during the storm. He and wildlife officer Joel Campora had traveled by boat up Mill Creek to reach two people who called for assistance -- and the river swamped the house while they were still inside.

"Other deputies heard a loud crash," said Bill Hollenbeck, the sheriff of neighboring Sebastian County. "They thought that the bridge had actually collapsed. Looking into it further, the house had imploded as a directly result of rising waters from Mill Creek."

Carpenter's body was recovered about a mile downstream. Campora and the two women inside the home remained missing Friday, Hollenbeck said.

"We're here right now for recovery or rescue. We're still remaining optimistic about our officer at this time," said Mike Knoedl, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "(Campora) was an epitome of what a wildlife officer should be, and he was doing what he was trained to do last night."

A man died after strong winds toppled a tree onto his car in Tull, just west of Little Rock. Authorities also are attributing the death of a woman in Scott County to the flooding, though they've released no information other than her body was found in her car.

At least nine other people were reported injured.

Up to a dozen tornadoes touched down in mostly rural parts of Arkansas on Thursday, as well as three in Oklahoma and one in Illinois. In Oklahoma, one twister bounced through the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, causing some structural damage, but no injuries.

Still, Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., told CBSNews.com that the U.S. is experiencing fewer tornados than usual this year.

"Although we did have a couple days in January that were active, we have seen below-normal activity through today," said Carbin. "We're running about 25 percent below of normal."

Carbin said roughly 375 tornadoes have hit the nation thus far this year, but that number is partly based on preliminary reports that haven't been confirmed by the service.

By the end of May, around 580 tornadoes have normally hit the U.S., Carbin said.

"We're roughly 200 tornadoes shy of what would be considered a normal year," Carbin said.

The center said large hail and tornadoes are likely Friday in Oklahoma and parts of the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri. The areas at greatest risk include Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Joplin, Mo., where the second-deadliest American tornado on record killed at least 158 people in 2011.

Flooding is also a concern in parts of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois through Sunday.

The National Weather Service sent teams to survey the aftermath of Thursday's storms in Arkansas. The warning coordination meteorologist in Little Rock, John Robinson, said it could take days for the weather service to confirm whether tornadoes struck as flooded highways were hindering access to the storm-hit areas.

Thursday's tornadoes were all less dangerous than the top-of-the-scale EF5 storm that struck Moore, Okla., on May 20 and killed 24 along its 17-mile path.

The U.S. averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year, but EF5 storms like the one in Moore -- with winds over 200 mph -- happen only about once per year. The tornado last week was the nation's first EF5 since 2011.

This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.

Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been struck the most, seven times each. More than half of these top-of-the-scale twisters have occurred in just five states: Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.


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