Midwest tornadoes: 5 dead, 29 hurt in Okla.

Sue Lord is dwarfed by the debris from her home, which is piled up on the neighbor's home, following a tornado in Woodward, Okla., Sunday, April 15, 2012. Lord was in the home when the tornado struck, but was not injured. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Last Updated 7:33 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) OKLAHOMA CITY - Residents were scouring through damaged homes across the Midwest on Sunday after a violent storm system unleashed tornadoes that left five people dead and at least 29 injured in Oklahoma, damaging a hospital, homes and other buildings.

Oklahoma emergency officials said five people died after a tornado touched down at 12:18 a.m. Sunday in and around the northwest Oklahoma town of Woodward, the high winds damaging homes, toppling trees and downing power lines about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The brunt of the damage was reported on the west side of the town of about 12,000 and its outskirts, where search teams scoured the rubble for hours for any still trapped or injured.

Storms also were reported in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska as a wide-ranging storm system lumbered its way across the nation's midsection Saturday and Sunday. Lightning, large hail and heavy downpours accompanied the system, which was so large that it still posed a severe weather threat from Minnnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in the north to eastern Texas and Louisiana hundreds of miles to the south.

More than 100 tornadoes had been reported across the region by daybreak, according to the National Weather Service. Although the storms were weakening and additional tornadoes were unlikely, forecasters warned that strong thunderstorms were expected as far east as Michigan.

Five people were killed and more than two dozen were injured when a suspected tornado ripped through a mobile home park in Woodward, Okla., about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Streets in the 12,000-resident town were left dotted with mangled vehicles, toppled power lines and leveled buildings.

The outbreak began when tornado sirens went off before dawn in Oklahoma City on Saturday. As the wide-ranging storm system lumbered across the nation, storms also were reported in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Lightning, large hail and heavy downpours accompanied the system.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., which specializes in tornado forecasting, had warned of a "high-end, life-threatening event" nearly two days before the bad weather hit. It was just the second time in U.S. history that the center issued a high-risk warning more than 24 hours in advance. The first was in April 2006, when nearly 100 tornadoes tore across the southeastern U.S., killing a dozen people and damaging more than 1,000 homes in Tennessee.

The center's spokesman, Chris Vaccaro, said the weather service had received at least 97 reports of tornadoes by dawn Sunday and survey teams would be heading out to investigate and determine the number of actual tornadoes, their highest winds, and the width and length of their destructive paths. Several large funnel clouds and tornadoes were photographed and videographed during the outbreak.

Search teams were scouring rubble for trapped and injured as the sun came up.

"They're still going door to door and in some cases, there are piles of rubble and they are having to sift through the rubble," said Michelann Ooten, an Oklahoma emergency management official.

In Kansas, a reported tornado in Wichita caused damage at McConnell Air Force Base and the Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing plants. A mobile home park was heavily damaged in the city, although no injuries or deaths were reported.

Iowa emergency officials said a large part of the town of Thurman in the western part of the state was destroyed Saturday night, possibly by a tornado, but no one was injured or killed. Fremont County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius said about 75 percent of the 250-person town was destroyed. Some residents took refuge at the City Hall.

In Nebraska, baseball-sized hail shattered windows and tore siding from houses in and around Petersburg, about 140 miles northwest of Omaha.

Twisters, baseball-sized hail strike Midwest
Storm system expect to wreak havoc in Midwest

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said the state medical examiner's office confirmed five fatalities in the Woodward area early Sunday but search and rescue operations were still going on hours after the tornado hit shortly after midnight. She didn't know the gender or age of the victims or details of their deaths but several homes were damaged.

"Significant damage and injuries have been reported," she said in a statement.

She had no immediate count of the injured or severity of injuries. Police said search and rescue units from neighboring communities were joining in the effort. Cain said authorities were anxiously awaiting daybreak Sunday to accelerate efforts to aid the injured and take stock of the damage.

National Weather Service forecasters had issued sobering outlooks that the worst of the weather in the Midwest and Plains would hit in the nighttime hours, predicting that conditions were right for exceptionally strong tornadoes. Weather officials and emergency management officials had worried most about what would happen if strong storms hit when people were sleeping, not paying attention to weather reports and unlikely to hear warning sirens.

The National Weather Service said the deadly tornado hit Woodward at 12:18 a.m. Sunday.

Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill said warning sirens sounded loudly on Saturday afternoon when advance storms rumbled through but he didn't hear the sirens go off for Sunday's tornado. He said the tornado struck a mixed area of residences and businesses and there were reports of possible damage to a mobile home park.

"We had a little tornado earlier ... and they blew all the sirens. When this one came in, our sirens weren't working," Hill said. He added that power was knocked out to thousands.

The American Red Cross said it would send relief trucks early Sunday from Oklahoma City and other locations, adding first responders in the Woodward area appeared to be pressed to the limit to handle the immediate disaster response.

"They're in chaos mode," said Rusty Surette, a regional communications director for the American Red Cross in Oklahoma City, speaking of authorities in Woodward.

He said Red Cross volunteers early Sunday had loaded up trucks with cots, food, water and medical and hygiene supplies to roll toward Woodward once the line of severe storms had passed. He also said a shelter was being established at a church in Woodward but expressed frustration that relief would have wait until the dangerous storms had passed in the early hours.

Kansas

Numerous tornadoes were reported in Kansas, though mostly in rural parts of the western and central sections of the state. A reported tornado in Wichita that struck late Saturday night caused damage at McConnell Air Force Base and the Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing plants. A mobile home park was heavily damaged in the city, although no injuries or deaths were reported.

The county where Wichita is located was declared a state of disaster and said preliminary estimates suggest damages could be as high as $283 million.

Yvonne Tucker rushed to a shelter with about 60 of her neighbors at Pinaire Mobile Home Park in Oaklawn. She said people were crying and screaming, and the shelter's lights went out when the twister hit. When they came back outside, they found several homes destroyed, including Tucker's.

"I didn't think it was that bad until I walked down my street and everything is gone," said Tucker, 49. "I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go. I've seen it on TV, but when it happens to you it is unreal.

"I just feel lost."

CBS Affiliate KWCH reports there are 100 homes in the mobile home park; 10-15 were destroyed in the storm and several others damaged. Authorities went door to door and have accounted for all residents except for one.

Comments