SHAWNEE, Okla. – One of several tornadoes that touched down Sunday in Oklahoma turned homes in a trailer park near Oklahoma City into splinters and rubble and sent frightened residents along a 100-mile corridor scurrying for shelter.
The tornadoes, high winds and hail across Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa were part of a massive, northeastward-moving storm system that stretched from Texas to Minnesota.
At least four separate twisters touched down in central Oklahoma late Sunday afternoon, including one near the town of Shawnee, 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, that laid waste to much of a mobile home park.
Across the state, 21 people were injured, not including those who suffered bumps and bruises and chose not to visit a hospital, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
Following the twisters, local emergency officials went from home site to home site in an effort to account for everyone. Cain said that, many times in such situations, people who are not found immediately are discovered later to have left the area ahead of the storm.
Forecasters had been warning of a general storm outbreak since Wednesday, and for Sunday’s storms some residents had more than a half-hour’s notice that a twister was on the way. Tornado watches and warnings were in effect through late Sunday in much of the nation’s midsection.
The trailer park west of Shawnee was among the hardest-hit areas, and among the hardest to reach, as tractor-trailers that forced the closure of a section of Interstate 40 north of the site and power lines draped across roads to the south. A storm spotter told the National Weather Service that the tornado left the earth “scoured” at the mobile home park.
“It seemed like it went on forever. It was a big rumbling for a long time,” said Shawn Savory, standing outside his damaged remodeling business in Shawnee. “It was close enough that you could feel like you could reach out and touch it.”
Gov. Mary Fallin declared an emergency for 16 Oklahoma counties that suffered from severe storms and flooding during the weekend. The declaration lets local governments acquire goods quickly to respond to their residents’ needs and puts the state in line for federal help if it becomes necessary.
Heavy rains and straight-line winds hit much of western Oklahoma on Saturday. Tornadoes were also reported Sunday at Edmond, Arcadia and near Wellston to the north and northeast of Oklahoma City. The supercell that generated the twisters weakened as it approached Tulsa, 90 miles to the northeast.
“I knew it was coming,” said Randy Grau, who huddled with his wife and two young sons in their Edmond home’s safe room when the tornado hit. He said he peered out his window as the weather worsened and believed he saw a flock of birds heading down the street.
“Then I realized it was swirling debris. That’s when we shut the door of the safe room,” said Grau, adding that they remained in the room for 10 minutes.
In Wichita, Kan., a tornado touched down near Mid-Content Airport on the city’s southwest side shortly before 4 p.m., knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses but bypassing the most populated areas of Kansas’ biggest city. The Wichita tornado was an EF1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with winds of 110 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Randy Duncan said there were no reports of fatalities or injuries in Kansas.
There were also two reports of tornadoes touching down in Iowa on Sunday night, including one near Huxley, about 20 miles north of Des Moines, and one in Grundy County, which is northeast of Des Moines, according to the Des Moines Register. There were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries.
In Oklahoma, aerial television news footage showed homes with significant damage northeast of Oklahoma City. Some outbuildings appeared to have been leveled, and some homes’ roofs or walls had been knocked down.
“When I first drove into the neighborhood, I didn’t see any major damage until I pulled into the front of my house,” said Csaba Mathe, of Edmond, who found a part of his neighbor’s fence in his swimming pool. “My reaction was: I hope insurance pays for the cleaning.”
“I typically have two trash cans, and now I have five in my driveway.”
The Storm Prediction Center had been warning about severe weather in the region since Wednesday, and on Friday, it zeroed in on Sunday as the day the storm system would likely pass through.
“They’ve been calling for this all day,” Edmond resident Anita Wright said after riding out the twister in an underground shelter. She and her husband, Ed, emerged from their hiding place to find uprooted trees, downed limbs and damaged gutters in their home.
In Katie Leathers’ backyard, the family’s trampoline was tossed through a section of fence and a giant tree uprooted.
“I saw all the trees waving, and that’s when I grabbed everyone and got into two closets,” Leathers said. “All these trees just snapped.”
Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Shawnee, Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.