Oklahoma braces for more tornadoes, as severe storm system lingers

Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, and southern Missouri faced a new series of tornadoes, heavy rain, and hail on Monday, as a massive storm system takes longer than usual to move through the nation's midsection.

Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman/AP
Kay James holds her cat as she sits in her driveway after her home was destroyed by the tornado that hit the area near 149th and Drexel on Monday, in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Gene Blevins/Reuters
Residents help repair the roof of their neighbor's house, which was damaged by a fallen tree when a tornado swept through Shawnee, Okla., on May 19. A massive storm front swept north through the central US on Sunday, hammering the region with fist-size hail, blinding rain, and tornadoes, including a half-mile-wide twister that struck near Oklahoma City.

UPDATE: Tuesday 8 a.m.  EST

A mile-wide tornado moved through the Oklahoma City area Monday afternoon, flattening homes and commercial buildings in Moore, Okla. A storm system spawned several tornadoes, as forecast, Monday.  At least 51 people were killed, including at least 20 children, and those numbers were expected to climb, officials said Tuesday.

Crews continued their desperate search-and-rescue effort throughout the Monday night at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm had ripped off the school's roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms, the Associated Press reports.

Children from the school were among the dead, but several students were pulled out alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage center in the parking lot.

On Sunday, two people were killed and at least 21 people were injured after tornadoes ripped through central Oklahoma as part of a storm system moving northeast through the central portion of the US from Texas to Michigan. Forecasters confirm that a second series of storms will hit the same area by late Monday afternoon, with tornadoes, and hail the size of baseballs predicted in some areas.

The hardest-hit area so far is Shawnee, Okla., 35 miles west of Oklahoma City, where a tornado killed two people at the Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park. Local officials say that, despite devastation that flattened many homes, every other resident was accounted for by late Sunday. 

“It looks like there's been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour.... It's pretty bad. It's pretty much wiped out,” Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth told Fox News on Monday.

At least four tornadoes touched down in the state Sunday, as storms pounded much of western Oklahoma Saturday and then moved northeast of Oklahoma City on Sunday. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) declared disaster areas in 16 counties, and more than 23,000 power outages were reported throughout the state.

Tornados also touched down in Iowa, Kansas, and western Illinois, with no injuries reported. In Iowa, a tornado inflicted damage in the towns of Huxley and Earlham, west of Des Moines. Downed power lines have left about 11,000 homes without power, six mobile homes were damaged, and, according to the Associated Press, one farmer reported the deaths of some animals, as heavy winds destroyed a barn.

A tornado swept down on Kansas late afternoon Sunday on the southwest side of Wichita, near the Mid-Continent Airport, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Several homes suffered window, siding, and roof damage, and more than 53,000 homes lost power. The storm was so immediate, it disrupted several high school graduation ceremonies as heavy rains and hail forced attendees to seek shelter. More than two inches of rain pounded Wichita streets, causing some flooding.

A tornado touched down in Thomson, Ill., early Sunday evening, according to the NWS. Carroll County emergency officials reported that the tornado damaged several large trees, bringing with it one-inch-diameter hail. About 1,000 people were left without power in the Quad Cities area.

The NWS predicts that a second series of storms will once again move northwest. Although the storm is moving from north Texas to northern Michigan, the highest-risk areas are the bulk of Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, and southern Missouri. Isolated tornadoes are once again possible, and residents are expected to see heavy rains and large hail.

“Today is looking to be much more explosive than tomorrow,” says Pat Slattery, spokesman for the central region office of the NWS.

Jim Keeney, a NWS meteorologist based in Kansas City, Mo., says the storm system originated Saturday and is remaining in the central part of the country through Tuesday, moving across the Midwest more slowly than normal.

“There’s just not enough air support to push it to the east. In situations like that, it’s a real slow progression,” Mr. Keeney says.

The US has reached the midpoint of the tornado season, which runs April through June, he says. Tornado warnings are currently in place for Missouri through Oklahoma through the rest of Monday night.

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