Worst Week Ever For Twisters

A Cessna airplane lies upside-down Saturday, May 10, 2003, at Wiley Post airport in Oklahoma City, after it was blown over by a tornado late Friday night. The twister was the second to hit the Oklahoma City metro area in as many days. AP

Homeowners collected scattered belongings Saturday after a second tornado struck Oklahoma City in two days, part of the United States' worst one-week barrage of tornadoes on record.

The enormous tornado tore across the city's outskirts during the dark late Friday, injuring at least five people, one critically, "which is unbelievable when you look at the pictures and that it went right across the metro," said Paul O'Leary, a spokesman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority.

President Bush issued a disaster declaration for the entire state of Oklahoma Saturday, clearing the way for federal aid.

Tornadoes, floods and other severe weather have killed 44 people in Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas, Georgia and Illinois in the past week.

CBS News meteorologist George Cullen says this is "probably the most violent weather I've seen in the last 25 years, at least for an entire week. Normally, if you get a tornado outbreak, it's from one individual storm, and moves on through, and that's basically it."

By early Saturday, 298 tornadoes had been reported to the National Weather Service nationwide, said Rich Thompson, lead forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service, in suburban Norman. The most recent comparable rash was 159, in 1999.

That is the most tornadoes in one week since recordkeeping started in the 1950s, said Dan McCarthy, warning coordination meteorologist at the prediction center.

"We just don't have a down day; that's what's been very unusual. It just doesn't seem to stop," Thompson said early Saturday.

After sunrise Saturday, the weather service posted a fresh round of tornado warnings for parts of Indiana, Missouri and Illinois. The Storm Prediction Center said severe thunderstorms were possible from eastern Oklahoma to western Ohio, and later issued a tornado watch for parts of east central Oklahoma.

"We're got one more system to deal with and expect one more big severe weather day (Saturday)," he said.

Fast-moving thunderstorms rolled across Indiana Saturday, bringing torrential downpours that caused widespread flooding of streets and fields. The severe weather caused the cancellation of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500.

The National Weather Service issued tornado and flash flood warnings, mostly in central and southern Indiana. There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes as of mid-day Saturday, though there were reports of power outages and damage from the strong winds and rain.

The weather service is investigating reports of a twister early Saturday near Burns in central Kansas. Trees were uprooted and power poles were bent over by the force of the storm. The storm also took the roof of an outbuilding and threw it into a nearby building.

With Saturday's first daylight on the wreckage in Oklahoma City, authorities were still assessing the extent of the damage. About 18,000 people were without power Saturday, the utility company OG&E said.

In Oklahoma city, CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reported that Oklahoma Governor Brad henry said there was no choice but to rebuild. "We all understand that's part of living in Oklahoma," Henry said, "like earthquakes are part of living in california. People still live there. Frankly earthquakes scare me more than tornadoes do."

On Thursday, another strong tornado blasted a 19-mile-long path through Oklahoma City's southern suburbs, injuring 134, destroying more than 300 houses and businesses and damaging hundreds more. Unlike Friday's twister, that tornado stayed on the ground for most of its route. At least three people remained in critical condition Saturday.

In Missouri, tornadoes touched down in at least two western counties Friday night, causing damage and some minor injuries, continuing a weeklong onslaught of severe weather in the Kansas City area.

"It came down right on top of me," said Freeman, Mo., Police Officer John Smith. "You could just here this 'brrrr' and I thought that was it. I thought it was going to pick me up and throw me."

Friday night's twister first touched down in Oklahoma City south of Interstate 40, moved north into the suburbs of Bethany and Warr Acres and then moved back into Oklahoma City along I-35, said police Sgt. Mike Klika. It then turned northeast back along I-44 and tracked toward Tulsa.

"I think our citizens had early warning and I think they learned their lesson, they took heed and took cover," Bethany Police Chief Neal Troutman said.

Putnam City West High School in far northwest Oklahoma City, which lost its roof in a tornado several years ago, was about two-thirds collapsed.

"At first glance, it looks like bulldozer material," Principal Kim Lanier said.

Neighbors came out to help Gene Wilson, whose mower service was heavily damaged.

"It's just devastating," Wilson said. "My building and everything I've worked for 30 years is down on the ground.
  • Francie Grace

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