Story Summary

Oklahoma tornadoes

A tornado struck just Moore, Oklahoma, south of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, May 20, 2013, ripping apart homes and other buildings in populated areas. The National Weather Service issued a rare tornado emergency for the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, meaning that significant and widespread damage and fatalities were likely.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 9 updates

(CNN) — Oklahoma had barely started clearing the rubble from a monstrous tornado two weeks ago when another rash of twisters plowed through this swath of Tornado Alley.

At least 13 people died and six remained missing Monday after tornadoes raked the state late Friday, the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Monday.

Among the dead were seven Guatemalan citizens, according to the country’s Consulate General in Houston. Four Guatemalan citizens were missing, the consulate said. It was not immediately clear if the dead and missing were part of earlier tallies provided by Oklahoma officials.

Authorities will resume their search Monday for the missing people, including four who sought shelter in storm drains, Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said.

The storms left not only a trail of death and destruction, it also sent flood waters surging.

And the damage wasn’t confined to Oklahoma.

In Missouri, a twister left more than 10 miles of significant damage “that caused dozens and dozens of houses to be literally blown up,” Gov. Jay Nixon told CNN affiliate KSDK.

No one was killed in that tornado, but three people drowned in Missouri, Nixon said.

And in Arkansas, flooding killed at least four people: a sheriff’s deputy, a wildlife officer and two women they were trying to save from a deluged home.

‘Memories just tossed about’

But it was Oklahoma City and its surrounding areas that took most of the damage.

The storm system mowed down power lines and uprooted trees, flipped big rigs on their sides and ripped off part of the terminal roof at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport, where some 1,500 area residents had taken shelter in a tunnel.

The twisters tore open brick houses like cartons, sucking out their contents and tossing them out onto lawns.

“It’s a sombering thing to think about life, and to see all your memories just tossed about,” Kris Merritt said as he surveyed the damage at his parents’ house. “Everything from your childhood on up.”

Though Friday’s tornadoes were not as strong as the EF-5 twister that killed 24 people on May 20, fear drove some people to flee in cars, ignoring warnings not to drive.

Some drove on the wrong side of the highway. Interstates turned into parking lots.

Vehicle of storm chasers cleared from scene

The wreckage of a vehicle used by storm chasers is loaded onto a flatbed truck at the intersection of 10th and Radio in Canadian County, near El Reno, Oklahoma on Sunday, June 02, 2013. Storm chasers Tim and Paul Samaras and Carl Young were killed chasing a tornado on Friday night. The intersection is being guarded by a sheriff’s deputy. The chasers were among nine people killed in storms that struck Oklahoma on Friday night.

‘We were floating’

One tornado swept up a truck carrying a crew from The Weather Channel, hurled it 200 yards into a field and smashed it to the ground.

“I saw people in my life, I saw their faces flash right in front of me,” meteorologist Mike Bettes told CNN on Sunday. “And it just seemed for a moment, everything was in slow motion, especially when we were floating.”

The crew members were lucky. They survived.

But the storm did claim the lives of three other storm chasers.

Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young were killed while chasing a tornado in El Reno.

At the intersection where authorities believe the men were killed, crews hauled away a mangled white truck that had been crushed like a tin can. The metal frame of their storm-chasing vehicle was twisted almost beyond recognition.

“A vehicle is not a place to be in any tornado,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “Especially a big one like that, and those men doing their job, those field scientists out there doing their jobs, were killed in the process.”

Storm chaser Reed Timmer, who knew Samaras well, said Monday he was “astonished” by what had happened. Samaras had a well-earned reputation for safety, he said on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

“I just don’t understand,” he said. “Something must have gone wrong, horribly wrong.”

‘We were overwhelmed’

Once the tornadoes passed, Oklahomans faced a new threat: floods.

Eight to 11 inches of rain hosed Oklahoma City, stranding motorists and hitting apartments in low-lying areas of town hard.

“We saw flooding in areas that we don’t see flooding,” said police Lt. Jay Barnett. “We were overwhelmed.”

The flash flooding swept some bodies up to five miles downstream, Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said.

Among those killed were Samuel Cifuentes, his wife Florinda Santos and their 5-year-old son, Alex Cifuentes, Samuel’s brother told CNN.

Authorities had been searching for the family members in a storm drain.

CNN’s Marlena Baldacci, Jackie Castillo, Jake Carpenter, Janet DiGiacomo, Dave Alsup, David Ruff, Gustavo Valdes and Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.

(CNN) — The National Weather Service reports to CNN that the preliminary number of tornadoes that hit in and around Oklahoma City is at five. Meteorologist Kurt Vanspeybroeck also noted the number of tornadoes could rise and survey teams will be out surveying damage today.

Severe Weather Outbreak In Oklahoma

Powerful storms rolled through the south-central United States on Thursday & Friday, causing damage and injuries and threatening portions of Oklahoma that are recovering from a devastating twister that struck earlier this month.

(CNN) — Tornadoes tore through the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and St. Louis, Missouri, areas Friday, ripping up homes and sending thousands scrambling for cover.

Nine people, two children and seven adults, were killed in the Oklahoma storms, a spokeswoman for the state’s chief medical examiner’s office said Saturday morning. This comes less than two weeks after a monstrous tornado made rubble of the nearby town of Moore.

Seventeen tornadoes were reported in the Midwest, and more than 212,000 were without power across the region early Saturday morning. One of the main concerns now is the flooding that the severe weather system left in its wake.

Here are the latest developments:

– While none were killed due to tornadoes, three people drowned in the state of Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon told CNN affiliate KSDK Saturday.

– Nixon said the tornado that hit St. Charles and St. Louis counties had a “very long damage track,” with “over 10 miles of significant damage … that caused dozens and dozens of houses to be literally blown up.”

– Flooding was a major problem in southern Missouri, the governor said. “Waters are rising, floods are still occurring, and we’re asking people to be very safe,” he said Saturday afternoon.

– A powerful storm caused major damage to a gymnasium of Gillespie High School in southwestern Illinois, with bricks piled up from what had been the gym’s front now piled up on the school’s lawn, Gillespie Mayor John Hicks said. Seven to 10 homes were destroyed — and more than 30 others suffered damage — in the storm.

– There were no injuries in Gillespie, Illinois, a town of about 3,400 people, despite the fierce winds, Hicks said. The mayor said the story might have been much different had the storm struck next week, when hundreds were set to gather not far from the high school for a celebration called Black Diamond Days.

Previously reported:

OKLAHOMA

Casualties

– Friday’s storms killed two children and seven adults in Oklahoma, said Amy Elliot, spokeswoman for the state’s chief medical examiner’s office.

– At least 71 others were injured, officials said.

– Oklahoma officials are assessing the damage and working to determine if there are other casualties. Among the areas hit by tornadoes Friday: the communities of Union City and El Reno, both in Canadian County just west of Oklahoma City.

– A National Weather Service survey team found damage indicating an EF3 tornado had struck Friday near El Reno, 25 miles west of Oklahoma City. EF3s pack gusts of 136 to 165 mph. The strongest tornado is an EF5.

– Seven of the people killed in Friday’s Oklahoma storms were killed in Canadian County, immediately to the west of the county that includes Oklahoma City, said Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West.

– The seven people who died in Canadian County were inside vehicles, West said.

Travel

– The Oklahoma Department of Transportation discouraged travel in the metro area, saying crews are working with the state highway patrol to close roads as necessary.

– Parts of Interstates 35 and 40, which cut through Oklahoma City and Moore, were “a parking lot” when the tornadoes struck.

– Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport lost part of its terminal roof, forcing travelers to seek shelter in the airport’s basement.

– The airport reopened early Saturday morning, but airlines canceled or delayed several morning departures “due to the fact that they could not fly in late last night to be at the gate for the first departures,” the airport said.

Flights were “slowly resuming” Saturday morning, the airport said. The airport’s website showed many mid- and late-morning departures were on time.

Flooding

– There’s flooding all across the metro area after 8 to 11 inches of rain fell, said Kristy Yager, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma City. The city also has minor building flooding downtown, including one inch of flood water pooling on the first floor of City Hall.

– “We saw flooding in areas that we don’t see flooding,” said Oklahoma City police Lt. Jay Barnett, but he did not have firm numbers on rescue.

– The city of El Reno, west of Oklahoma City, was also at risk of flooding. The city mayor urged residents to take shelter inside. “It’s started to hail again and rain; we are telling people to stay inside,” Mayor Matt White said.

Power

– A large part of Moore was without power, as were parts of El Reno and Union City littered by downed power lines and trees.

– The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reports at least 86,200 outages across the state.

MISSOURI

Casualties

– Gov. Jay Nixon said Saturday that there were no fatalities tied to tornadoes that rolled through the St. Louis metropolitan area, but he said at least three people died around the state due to drowning.

Damage

– Outside St. Louis, in St. Charles County, some homes were demolished. Aerial video from CNN affiliate KMOV showed at least the second floors of several homes ripped apart, with houses to the front and behind still standing.

– Most of the St. Charles County damage happened in a 10-square-mile area just east of a country club, sandwiched between the town of St. Peters and the Ohio River, county spokesman Colene McEntee told CNN. No serious injuries were reported in the county.

– Also damaged was the 10,000-seat Family Arena in St. Charles, McEntee said. The damage led three high schools in the Francis Howell school district to postpone graduation ceremonies that had been scheduled for Saturday, KSDK reported.

Travel

– For four hours, the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was closed to remove debris from the runway, but it reopened early Saturday morning. The terminals were not affected, but the storm caused damage to some airport buildings. Passengers and employees took shelter in restrooms and lower levels of the terminal before the storm hit, and there were no reports of injuries. Airport updates will be posted here: http://www.flystl.com/Newsroom/Blog.aspx

Flooding

– Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency. Portions of more than 200 roads were closed due to flooding, the Missouri Department of Transportation said Saturday morning.

Power

– The total number of customers without power in the state was more than 67,000 as of 9:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. ET). The latest numbers can be found here: http://apps.ameren.com/outage/outagemap.aspx?state=MO

OTHER STATES

The power outages are not limited to the two states. At one point Saturday, tens of thousands were without power, though that number dropped significantly as the day wore on. Below are power outage numbers as of 9:30 p.m. ET.

Illinois:

About 7,700

More details: http://apps.ameren.com/outage/outagemap.aspx?state=IL

Arkansas:

About 3,500

More details: http://viewoutage.entergy.com/ar.aspx

Kansas:

Less than 100

More details: https://www-11.westarenergy.com/outagemaps/outagetable.asp

Indiana:

Less than 100

More details: http://www.nipscooutages.com/WSSNisourceOutageMap/outagemap.html?action=city&;reloaded=true

CNN’s Dave Alsup and Joe Sutton contributed to this report

Take a look at this: a glimpse inside a tornado. Storm chasers shot this in Kansas on Monday.

They were inside a specialized tank-like machine called a Tornado Intercept Vehicle, or TIV. They say wind speeds were up to 170 miles per hour … strong enough to blow open a hatch and a door, and rip instruments off the roof, but it stayed on the ground.

These before and after images from Google Maps show how much devastion the EF-5 tornado caused in Moore, Oklahoma. Its winds reached more than 200 miles per hour at the strongest. The tornado destroyed 13,000 buildings and may have caused $2 billion in damage. At least 24 died and hundreds more were hurt.

Work in the New Orleans area to bring help to the tornado victims in Oklahoma will run through the Memorial Day weekend.

Jasper Contractors are leading a massive tornado relief effort to provide basic supplies and essentials.

Stephanie Lammers says Jasper Contractors wants people to drop off donations to their Metairie office (3409 N. I-10 Service Rd. W.) at I-10 and the Causeway before May 29th, “These victims need baby supplies, and powdered formula, trash bags, and toiletry items. Blankets and any kind of under garments.”

Lammers says Jasper even makes house calls, “All you do is call our local number (504-681-7117) and we`ll schedule a pick up time.”

Jasper Contractors is a nationwide roofing company with locations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

They will be closed Sunday and Monday for Memorial Day.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans is collecting financial support.

Arch Bishop Gregory Aymond says sending money is the fastest and most efficient way to help, “At this point it would not be helpful to send anything other than money. Because with the money they can then get what they need.”

The Archdiocese wants people to mark donations as “Oklahoma Tornado Relief.”

Donations can be sent to:

Archdiocese of New Orleans

7887 Walmsley Ave.

New Orleans, LA 70125

Six golden retrievers and their handlers are on a mission to help in a way only dogs can: they’re bringing comfort to some of the youngest Oklahoma tornado victims at area hospitals.

Their job is to be the calm after the storm. They’re definitely helping in the healing process. You can call it a canine mission accomplished.

Red Cross helps Oklahoma Tornado survivors

The remains of a home in the aftermath of the tornado. Former residents can take refuge in one of the several Red Cross shelters around the area.

(CNN) — Pounding rain soaked tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, on Thursday morning, and winds sent pieces of debris flying, hindering recovery efforts three days after the devastating tornado.

In addition to the 24 people killed in Monday’s massive twister, two people died elsewhere in the state in storms Sunday, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said.

“All people thought missing have been accounted for at this time,” Gov. Mary Fallin said.

In all, 377 people have been treated for injuries as a result of this week’s storms, the Department of Emergency Management said. It did not say how many were injured Monday. Fallin said on Twitter that the 377 were injured in the tornado Monday. However, a hospital in Shawnee, Oklahoma, said it treated 11 people injured in the tornado there Sunday

Of the 24 people killed Monday, 10 were children — including two infants, the state medical examiner’s office said.

As water gushed through the streets Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the Oklahoma City area, including Moore, and a severe thunderstorm warning.

Strong storms in southwestern Oklahoma City “are making a (southeast) turn toward Moore,” the National Weather Service tweeted at 10:30 a.m. “Small hail, gusty winds, lightning and flooding main threats!”

But shortly after, the service said storms were moving out of the metropolitan Oklahoma City area. “Next chance of storms is late tonight,” the weather service tweeted.

Predictions of heavy wind gusts also brought with them the possibility, though slight, of an isolated twister in the area.

A group of people who rode out Monday’s ferocious tornado in a bank vault huddled together under a tarp early Thursday near a CNN crew.

More thunderstorms could be ahead for the region through Memorial Day weekend.

Officials estimate that 12,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the EF5 tornado.

On Wednesday, a command center set up to help people with insurance processed 4,000 claims, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said Thursday.

“We have it down to a science here,” he said.

Some people may choose to move to another neighborhood, but most are indicating they want to rebuild in Moore, Doak said.

The two elementary schools destroyed will be rebuilt, the incoming superintendent of Moore public schools said Thursday.

“That’s the beginning of the healing process,” Robert Romines said.

The schools did not have storm shelters. At one, Plaza Towers Elementary, seven children died.

Six were 9-year-olds who died from asphyxia, or suffocation; one was an 8-year-old killed by blunt force trauma, the state medical examiner’s office said.

Romines said he supports the effort to add storm shelters during the rebuilding. He called for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover it.

Other schools that were rebuilt after a 1999 tornado have such shelters, he said. But numerous other schools don’t. “As funds become available, we will look at that,” Romines said, adding that money “is an obstacle.”

The school year was set to end Thursday.

High school commencement ceremonies will take place Saturday in downtown Oklahoma City, Romines said. The community will “do the best we can and make sure that our students are all taken care of.”

CNN’s Sean Morris, Chuck Johnston, Judson Jones, Vivian Kuo, Jennifer Delgado and John Berman contributed to this report.

Several organizations, both local and national, are offering help to the people of Oklahoma after this week’s tornadoes. If you can, please help!

catholic-charities-ok-277×177

Catholic Charities of Oklahoma: Lend a hand to the victims of Oklahoma’s recent tornadoes. Our disaster relief team works with those families and individuals impacted by the disaster, providing counseling, emergency assistance and long-term case management. To learn more about Catholic Charities of Oklahoma, click here. Click here to donate.

raising-canes-277×177

Raising Cane’s: Raising Cane’s is teaming with the American Red Cross to assist in the massive relief effort. Raising Cane’s is kicking off its campaign by making a $10,000 donation to the Red Cross. In addition, from Wednesday, May 22, through Sunday, May 26, more than 150 participating restaurants nationwide will be collecting cash and credit card donations from customers to provide additional assistance.

humanesocietylogo-277×177

Humane Society: The Humane Society of the United States is a leading disaster relief agency for animals, and provides direct care for thousands of animals at sanctuaries and rescue facilities, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and mobile veterinary clinics.

Please consider making a donation to the Disaster Relief Fund. Or, you can apply to become an Animal Rescue Volunteer so you can join our Animal Rescue Team on future deployments.

samaritan’s-purse-277×177 

Samaritan’s Purse: This nondenominational evangelical Christian organization provides spiritual and physical aid to hurting people.

You can give to Samaritan’s Purse by texting SP to 80888 (this will send a $10 donation, charged to your cell phone) or click here to give online, or by mail to Samaritan’s Purse P.O. Box 3000 Boone, NC 28607. Volunteers can sign up to help at SPvolunteernetwork.org.

red_cross_logo-277×177

Red Cross: The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps people affected by disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires and tornadoes (click here for more information about texting to the Red Cross). To give online, click here.

Salvation_Army_Logo-277×177

Salvation Army: The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

Click here to donate online, or text STORM to 80888 to make a $10 donation.

Have another organization that should be on this list? Send their contact information to joe@wgno.com.

Ground Zero, Moore, OK – Underground Shelter

CNN iReporter Rex Pace took this photo of utter destruction about an hour after the tornado hit Moore, OK on Monday, May 20th. These underground shelters are the only things that saved most of the survivors.

(CNN) — The mayor of tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, will push for a law requiring storm shelters or safe rooms in new homes, he told CNN Wednesday.

“We’ll try to get it passed as soon as I can,” Glenn Lewis said.

The ordinance would apply to single-family and multifamily homes.

At least 24 people, including nine children, were killed in Monday’s mammoth tornado, the state medical examiner’s office said. Another 324 people were injured, Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday.

Lewis said he does not expect the death toll to rise.

But some loved ones are still missing after the twister ripped through 17 miles of central Oklahoma and pummeled 2,400 homes.

Cassandra Jenkins has no idea what happened to her grandparents, more than a day after the twister struck their hometown of Moore.

“All we know is that their home is still left standing. However, they have not been seen or heard from since the storm hit,” she said as her daughters clutched photos of their great-grandparents.

“We’ve tried to locate them at every hospital, every shelter, every Red Cross. Anything we could possibly reach out to, we have.”

Young lives remembered

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Moore is the pile of wreckage where Plaza Towers Elementary School once stood.

Seven of the nine children killed in the storm were inside the school when it collapsed.

The children were in a classroom, Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird told CNN Wednesday. He also said their deaths “had nothing to do with flooding, from what I understand.” On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN the youngsters had drowned in a school basement.

Local resident Adam Baker told CNN he rushed to the school to help in the aftermath. He found some children who had died in a shallow space.

“The ones that were deceased had bumps, scrapes, and they probably would have made it if they weren’t pinned. It looked like most of them just drowned — all blue and stuff.” Pieces of pipe, metal, desks, 2-by-4s, and other debris were on them, he said.

Officials have not yet released official causes of death.

Ja’Nae Hornsby, 9, was one of them.

“There’s no other kid like her,” Ja’Nae’s aunt Angela Hornsby said. “She’s the sweetest thing, the bossiest thing, the most fun, always trying to make us laugh.”

Ja’Nae’s father, Joshua Hornsby, isn’t ready to accept that his little girl is gone.

“I’m still hoping for that call to say, ‘We’ve made a mistake,’” he said. “I just pray that’s what it is.”

Destruction on a colossal scale

Damage assessments Tuesday showed the tornado had winds over 200 mph at times, making it an EF5 — the strongest category of tornadoes measured, the National Weather Service said.

Lewis said the devastation was so catastrophic that city officials rushed to print new street signs to help guide rescuers and residents through the newly mangled and unfamiliar landscape.

Insurance claims related to damage from Monday’s tornado and storm in metropolitan Oklahoma City are likely to top $2 billion, said Kelly Collins, a representative of the Oklahoma Insurance Department.

Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, told CNN the agency is in “good shape” to support the recovery in Oklahoma and in other disaster zones, such as rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York. “We got full allocation last year with the Sandy supplemental funds. We are looking to continue the response here as well as the previous disasters.”

But “if we have another hurricane, we may need more money,” he said Wednesday.

About 10,000 customers remained without power on Wednesday, down from 37,000, Governor Fallin said.

Those helping in Moore include police and firefighters from Joplin, Missouri — a city all too familiar with grief and devastation.

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the tornado that pulverized Joplin, killing at least 158 people. It was the deadliest single U.S. tornado since federal record-keeping began in 1950.

“We remember the amount of assistance that we received following the tornado two years ago, and we want to help others as they helped us,” Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr said.

“We know too well what their community is facing, and we feel an obligation to serve them as they have served us.”

‘Still can’t believe this’

Some residents of Moore ventured back to where their homes once stood, only to find unrecognizable scraps of their lives.

“You just want to break down and cry,” Steve Wilkerson said, his voice trembling.

He held a laundry basket that contained the few intact belongings he could find.

“I still can’t believe this is happening. You work 20 years, and then it’s gone in 15 minutes.”

CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt, Nick Valenica, Josh Levs, Brian Todd, Mayra Cuevas, Anderson Cooper, Gary Tuchman, Ed Lavandera, Dana Ford, Pamela Brown and George Howell contributed to this report.

Advertisement