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Tornadoes kill 4 in Oklahoma, leaving trail of destruction and thousands without power

2 killed in Oklahoma after tornadoes sweep Central US
Posted at 11:44 AM, Apr 28, 2024

SULPHUR, Okla. — Tornadoes killed at least four people in Oklahoma and left thousands without power Sunday after a destructive outbreak of severe weather flattened buildings in the heart of one rural town and injured dozens of people.

Nearly 30,000 people remained without electricity after tornadoes began late Saturday night. The destruction was extensive in Sulphur, a town of about 5,000 people, where many downtown buildings were reduced to rubble and roofs were sheared off houses across a 15-block radius.

“You just can't believe the destruction,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said during a visit to the hard-hit town. “It seems like every business downtown has been destroyed.”

Stitt said about 30 people were injured in Sulphur. Hospitals across the state reported about 100 injuries, including people apparently cut or struck by debris or hurt from falls, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Dozens of reported tornadoes have wreaked havoc in the nation's midsection since Friday, with flood watches and warnings in effect Sunday for Oklahoma and other states — including Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

Authorities said the tornado in Sulphur began in a city park before tearing through the downtown, flipping cars and ripping the roofs and walls off brick buildings. Windows and doors were blown out of structures that remained standing.

Stitt said one of the victims was found in the bar in Sulphur, where about 20 people were sheltering inside when the storm hit. The injured were taken to the hospital and released.

Clean up was underway in downtown Sulphur on Sunday afternoon as a light rain began to fall over the devastated city center. A car lay overturned near the debris and several heavily damaged vehicles were strewn nearby.

Lifelong Sulphur resident Kelly Trussell, who said she lives 3 miles (nearly 5 kilometers) from downtown, described the scene as “heartbreaking” as she looked upon the totaled streets. “How do you rebuild it, this is complete devastation,” Trussell said. “It is crazy, you want to help but where do you start?”

Carolyn Goodman traveled to Sulphur from the nearby town of Ada in search of her former sister-in-law, who Goodman said was at a local bar before just before the tornado hit the area.

“The bar was destroyed,” Goodman said. “I know they probably won’t find her alive ... but I hope she is still alive.”

In Oklahoma, a tornado ripped through Holdenville, a town of about 5,000 people, late Saturday, killing two people, and injuring four others, Hughes County Emergency Medical Services said. It said 14 homes were damaged or destroyed there and emergency responders were searching the damage areas.

Another person was killed along Interstate 35 near the southern Oklahoma city of Marietta, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. A hospital was damaged in the town and authorities closed an interstate at the state line with Texas due to overturned vehicles and downed power lines.

In Holdenville, houses were demolished and road signs were bent to the ground in the community roughly 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Oklahoma City. The sound of chainsaws could be heard in the distance as workers began tackling the damage.

Elsewhere, authorities said first responders conducted three swift water rescues in Pittsburg County because of high water that closed some local roads. Stretches of state highways were closed in that and other counties because of flooding, debris or the need to allow emergency crews to search and assess the damage, officials said.

Stitt issued an executive order Sunday declaring a state of emergency in 12 counties due to the fallout from the severe weather as crews worked to clear debris and assess damage from the severe storms that downed power lines

Nearly 30,000 customers were without power in Oklahoma as of midday Sunday, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks electric utility outages. In Texas, nearly 52,000 customers were without power.

At the Sulphur High School gym, families took cover from the storm late Saturday as tornadoes ravaged the area. Jackalyn Wright said she and her family sheltered at the school’s gym and heard what sounded like a helicopter as the tornado touched down over them. Chad Smith, 43, said people ran into the gym as the wind picked up, the rain started coming faster and the doors slammed shut. “Just give me a beer and a lawn chair and I will sit outside and watch it,” Smith said. Intead, he took cover.

Residents in other states were also digging out from storm damage. A tornado in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, demolished homes and businesses Saturday as it moved for miles through farmland and into subdivisions, then slammed an Iowa town.

The tornado damage began Friday afternoon near Lincoln, Nebraska. An industrial building in Lancaster County was hit, causing it to collapse with 70 people inside. Several were trapped, but everyone was evacuated, and the three injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

One or possibly two tornadoes then spent around an hour creeping toward Omaha, leaving behind damage consistent with an EF3 twister, with winds of 135 to 165 mph (217 to 265 kph), said Chris Franks, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Omaha office.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spent Saturday touring the damage and arranging for assistance for the damaged communities. Formal damage assessments are still underway, but the states plan to seek federal help.