Chaos after storm sirens fail to sound

Dozens of tornadoes tore through parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa overnight and one twister killed at least five people early on Saturday as storm sirens failed to sound in an Oklahoma town and caught people unaware.

Storms skipped across what is often called “Tornado Alley” in the US Central and Southern Plains and more were forecast. But casualties appeared limited because many of the twisters hit sparsely populated areas, and during daylight hours or evening when people were still awake.

In Oklahoma, a twister struck the northwest city of Woodward early on Sunday after lightning apparently disabled its storm warning system, Mayor Roscoe Hill said.

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A total of 29 people were treated at Woodward Regional Hospital, according to chief executive officer Dave Wallace. Of these, five were in critical condition and transferred to other hospitals, while four were admitted to Woodward and are in good condition.

“This thing took us by surprise,” Hill said, adding storm sirens had not sounded. “It’s kind of overwhelming.”

In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency as officials assessed damage from the overnight tornadoes and storms.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Kansas, but about 11,000 people were reported without power, most of them around Wichita.

The storm damaged a hangar at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita and destroyed several homes around the area.

Storm chaser Brandon Redmond, a meteorologist with the Severe Weather Alert Team, said the twister passed over his vehicle and lifted it two feet off the ground.

He said: “The tornado literally formed over our vehicle. I’ve never been that scared in my life… we had power flashes all around us and debris circulating around the vehicle, sheet metal, parts of a roof and plywood.”