OKLAHOMA CITY: Tornadoes rolled in from the prairie and slammed Oklahoma City and its suburbs on Friday, killing a mother and baby and crumpling cars and tractor-trailers along a major interstate.
The broad storm hit during the evening rush hour, causing havoc on Interstate 40, a major artery connecting suburbs east and west of the city. To the south, winds approaching 80 mph were forecast for Moore, where a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado killed 24 on May 20.
Floodwaters up to 4 feet deep hampered rescue attempts and frequent lightning roiled the skies well after the main threat had passed to the east.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said troopers found the bodies of a woman and an infant near their vehicle. Randolph said it’s not known if the woman was driving into the storm when it hit around 7 p.m. Friday.
Emergency officials said numerous injuries were reported in the area along I-40, and Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area. Troopers requested a number of ambulances at I-40 near Yukon, west of Oklahoma City.
“I’m in a car running from the tornado,” said Amy Sharp, who last week pulled her fourth-grade daughter from the Plaza Towers Elementary School as a storm approached with 210 mph winds. “I’m in Norman and it just hit Yukon where I was staying” since last week’s storm.
“I’m with my children who wanted their mother out of that town,” Sharp said, her voice quivering with emotion.
Hail and heavy rain pelted the metro area to the point that emergency workers had trouble responding to “widespread” reports of injuries.
“We’re scrambling around,” said Lara O’Leary, a spokeswoman for the local ambulance agency. “There is very low visibility with the heavy rain ... so we’re having trouble getting around.
“The damage is very, very widespread.”
Tornado warnings were also posted Friday night near Tulsa and near St. Louis.
In Oklahoma, storm chasers with cameras in their cars transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. Police urged motorists to leave I-40 and seek a safe place.
Medical facilities in Yukon and Oklahoma City were preparing for a flood of patients. “They just sent a code yellow, which means an influx of patients is expected,” said Integris spokeswoman Brooke Cayot.
At Will Rogers World Airport southwest of Oklahoma City, passengers were directed into underground tunnels and inbound and outbound flights were canceled.
Television cameras showed debris falling from the sky and power transformers being knocked out by high winds.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a number of motorists were injured and that a few were missing. Numerous vehicles were damaged, leaving motorists stranded on the sides of roads, Trooper Betsy Randolph said.
Arkansas hit hard
Well before Oklahoma’s first thunderstorms fired up at late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman was already forecasting a violent evening. From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents were told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.
Forecasters warned of a “particularly dangerous situation,” with ominous language about strong tornadoes and hail the size of grapefruits — 4 inches in diameter.
Flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas late Thursday and early Friday. Three others were missing in floods that followed 6 inches of rain in the rugged Ouachita Mountains near Y City, 125 miles west of Little Rock.
The Fourche La Fave River rose 24 feet overnight, temporarily swamping the U.S. 71 bridge in Scott County.
Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter died while trying to check on local residents during the storm and wildlife officer Joel Campora and two others are missing. They had traveled up Mill Creek by boat.
A man died after strong winds toppled a tree onto his car in Tull, just west of Little Rock, late Thursday. Authorities also are attributing the death of a woman in Scott County to flooding.