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At least 3 killed as tornadoes, severe storms sweep through central U.S.

Strong storms with tornadoes that plowed across the central U.S. killed at least three people in Oklahoma and left thousands without power Thursday as forecasters warned of potentially more severe weather to come.

Authorities were still unsure of the full scale of injuries and destruction in Oklahoma, where storms flattened homes and turned over 18-wheelers. Employees of a pizza restaurant said they took shelter in the walk-in freezer, and when they emerged, portions of the roof and shattered windows littered the parking lot.

"There are definitely dozens of various injuries, from minor all the way up to fatalities," said Deputy Sheriff Scott Gibbons of McClain County, south of Oklahoma City.

Deadly storms this spring have killed dozens of people across a wide swath of the country. More bad weather, and a chance of more tornadoes, were possible Thursday night from Texas to Wisconsin, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

Severe tornadoes in Oklahoma leave 2 dead, homes in rubble 01:52

Two of the deaths in Oklahoma were in the small town of Cole. A third person who was injured by the tornado has also died, authorities said, but it was not clear where the person was injured. Officials said the twister also devastated Shawnee.

Cole resident Larry Paul and three of his family members rode out the storm in a concrete shelter.

"I didn't want to look outside," Paul told CBS News. "I didn't want to see the devastation."

Paul said that one of his family members, a volunteer firefighter, was the one responsible for activating the tornado sirens for the area, likely saving lives.

Paul said his family lost everything in the tornado.

"It's material things, but it's hits you hard," Paul said. "Your family's worked hard for all this."

The threat started Wednesday night when the National Weather Service began issuing tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa. Forecasters warned people to find shelter.

"My priority was keeping everybody safe so I hustled everybody into the walk-in," said Bekah Inman, general manager of a Papa John's Pizza in Shawnee, told Oklahoma television station KOCO. "There was a lot commotion, people were starting to get a little frantic."

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt visited Shawnee, where officials Thursday focused on damage assessment after spending the night looking for victims and survivors of the storm. The number of injuries and homes and buildings damaged was not known, said Benny Fulkerson of the Department of Emergency Management.

The storm ripped down power lines, toppled trees and left a trail of badly damaged homes and buildings. Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and an airport were damaged before the tornado moved away and weakened.

Kimber Hendrickson, owner of the Scissortail Silos event center, surveys debris of her venue that was destroyed during overnight tornadoes in Cole, Oklahoma, April 20, 2023.
Kimber Hendrickson, owner of the Scissortail Silos event center, surveys debris of her venue that was destroyed during overnight tornadoes in Cole, Oklahoma, April 20, 2023. Reuters/Nick Oxford

"The damage is unbelievable when you walk through there," Stitt said after touring Shawnee.

Reporter Storme Jones of CBS affiliate KWTV told CBS News that the storm was so strong some students grabbed onto toilets on the first floor of their residence near campus as they took cover.

Stitt said almost every building at OBU was damaged, but all of the students and faculty have been accounted for.

The station noted that a 90-year-old grandmother made it through even though a twister hit her home in Shawnee.

A KWTV helicopter lost its windshield as a tornado hit. (Warning: Some viewers may be offended by the language in the below video.)

Following the storms, Stitt declared a state of emergency in five counties: Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie.

At the peak of the severe weather, more than 23,000 customers were without electricity throughout Oklahoma, according to

KFOR-TV reported that residents south of Oklahoma City said they were trapped in their underground shelters. In Cole, two people emerged unhurt after riding out the storm in a manhole, the television station reported.

A storm front hit Texas Thursday evening, knocking out power to more than 67,000 customers, according to Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services reported late Thursday night that it was conducting multiple water rescues. The NWS issued tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings late Thursday night for Comal County north of San Antonio, and warned of  possible "ping pong ball size hail."

Meteorologist Mike Bettes with The Weather Channel reported that the storm could bring the threat of wind, rain and hail to hit east Texas and Louisiana on Friday, including the cities of Houston and New Orleans. 

A March 31 storm produced tornadoes that killed at least 32 people from Arkansas to Delaware, and days later a tornado left five dead in Missouri. At least 26 died in Mississippi and Alabama when tornadoes during a late March storm carved a path of destruction through the Deep South.

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