A VIOLENT burst of thunderstorms and tornadoes killed at least nine people and injured dozens as it swept across the American Mid-west.
Cars and lorries were toppled and commuters left trapped on an interstate highway near Oklahoma City as the storms swept in during rush hour on Friday evening.
Several tornadoes were reported by the US National Weather Service. They rolled in from the surrounding prairie, causing havoc in towns along their paths.
The storms brought another tense day for a region still reeling from the recent monstrous twister known as an EF5, ranking at the top of the scale used to measure tornado strength, that struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on 20 May, killing 24 people and decimating neighbourhoods.
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. As the cell
advanced, police urged motorists to seek safe haven.
Violent weather also moved through the St Louis area of Missouri. Early aerial images of the damage caused by the storms showed homes with porches ripped away, roofs torn off and piles of splintered wood scattered about the neighbouring streets.
Officials in St Charles County also reported that schools had suffered some damage.
Among the nine dead in Oklahoma were a mother and a baby found in a vehicle.
Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said yesterday seven adults and two children were among the dead.
At least 75 people were hurt, five critically, hospital officials said.
Meteorologists had warned about particularly bad weather on Friday but said the storm’s fury did not match that of the tornado that struck Moore. The Friday storm, however, brought with it much more
It dumped around eight inches of rain on Oklahoma City in the span of a few hours and made the tornado difficult to see for motorists trying to make it home, said Bruce Thoren, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma.
“Some tornadoes are wrapped in rain, so it’s basically impossible to see, which is extremely dangerous,” Thoren said. “Somebody driving along really not familiar with what’s going on can basically drive into it.”
The heavy rain and hail hampered rescue efforts in Oklahoma City. Frequent lightning broke from the skies well after the main threat had moved east. Highways and streets were clogged late into the night as motorists worked their way around flooded parts of the city.
Aerial images taken yesterday showed mudwater covering roadways around Oklahoma City and El Reno, about 30 miles west of the state capital.The Oklahoma County sheriff’s office said yesterday in a news release that deputies were called to more than ten high-water rescues overnight.
Will Rogers World Airport was slowly reopening and some flights were resuming last night. However, the airport reported significant damage to the roof of the terminal, and flooding damage to walls, counters and floors.
Emergency officials reported that numerous injuries
occurred in the area along the Interstate 40 highway, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Betsy Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area.
Standing water was several feet deep, and in some places it looked more like a hurricane had passed through than a tornado. More than 86,000 households were left without
Among the injured was cable television Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes, who suffered minor injuries when the “tornado hunt” vehicle that he and two photographers were travelling in was thrown 200 yards. The Weather Channel said all of the people in the vehicle were able to walk away, and that it was the first time a network personality was injured in a storm.
In Missouri, the combination of high water and fallen power lines closed dozen of roads, trapping traffic on highways and side streets in the St Louis area. At the Hollywood Casino in the St Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, gamblers rushed from the floor as a storm blew through, causing minor damage to the building.
The US averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year and most are relatively small. Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes to strike since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been hit the most – seven times each.
National Weather Service meteorologists said yesterday that it is unclear how many tornadoes touched down as part of the Friday evening storm system. Dozens of tornado warnings were issued for central Oklahoma and parts of Missouri, especially near St Louis, they said, but crews must assess the damage before determining whether it was caused by tornadoes or severe thunderstorms.
The chances for severe weather are on the decline as a cold front moves through the region, said weather service meteorologist Gene Hatch in Springfield, Missouri.
This spring’s tornado season got off to a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May.
The season typically starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.