Death toll in Oklahoma rises to 16; hunt for 6 missing continues
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (CNN) — Oklahoma had barely started clearing the rubble from a monstrous tornado two weeks ago when another rash of twisters plowed through this ill-fated swath of Tornado Alley.
At least 16 people are dead across the state from a vicious storm that spawned at least five tornadoes there late Friday, officials said Monday.
And the death toll may rise further.
Authorities will resume their search Monday for six people still missing, 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 bore the brunt of the storms’ wrath.
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.
‘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.”
‘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.
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