Tornado tears through southern suburbs of Oklahoma City
SHAWNEE, Oklahoma (CNN) — A tornado struck just south of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, ripping apart homes and other buildings in populated areas.
The National Weather Service issued a rare tornado emergency for the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, meaning that significant and widespread damage and fatalities were likely.
Video from CNN affiliates showed a funnel cloud stretching from the sky to the ground, kicking up debris.
The tornado was estimated to be at least two miles wide at one point as it moved through Moore, Oklahoma, in the southern part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.
Meteorologists warned residents to go underground to survive a direct hit from the tornado.
“It’s just destroying everything. There’s so many homes in the air right now. The motion on this storm is sickening,” said storm chaser Spencer Basoco.
More than 171,000 people could have been in the path of the storm.
The severe weather comes after tornadoes and powerful storms ripped through Oklahoma and the Midwest earlier Monday and on Sunday.
Forecasters had warned that the destructive weather, which killed at least two people, wasn’t over.
“Today could be potentially as dangerous as yesterday,” CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons said Monday morning, pointing to a wide swath of the country spanning from Texas to Michigan. “We’re talking about 500,000 square miles under the gun for severe weather.”
As they braced for more possible storms, residents in the hardest-hit areas were combing through rubble where their homes once stood.
“My mind is, like, blown, completely blown,” said Jessie Addington, 21, who found that few pieces of her childhood home in Shawnee, Oklahoma, were still standing Monday.
Addington, who now lives in a nearby town, said her mother huddled in the mobile home’s bathroom when the storm hit. But the tornado still tossed her around like a rag doll, leaving her bruised and battered.
When Addington arrived, she was shocked to find the neighborhood where she had lived for 17 years reduced to ruins.
“I’m feeling cheated, to be honest,” she said, “like, it’s just all gone.”
An estimated 300 homes were damaged or destroyed across Oklahoma, Red Cross spokesman Ken Garcia said.
Viewed from the air, the extent of the damage was staggering, said John Welsh, a helicopter pilot for CNN affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma. “Like you took the house, you put it in a gigantic blender, you turned it on pulse for a couple minutes and then you just dumped it out.”
For Justin Dunsworth, watching a large twister head toward homes in Shawnee on Sunday was a deeply personal experience. Three years ago, a tornado destroyed his house. This time around, he saw a tornado plow toward a mobile home park a quarter-mile away from where he lives. On Monday, he sent videos he recorded of the large, gray twister to CNN’s iReport.
“There’s a sense of fear while looking at the massive funnel not knowing whether it was going to turn towards us, as unpredictable as they are,” he said. “Your adrenaline is so high, just knowing that it’s tearing into other homes and possibly injuring people, or worse.”
Oklahoma resident: ‘It’s just devastating’
Two men, both in their 70s, were confirmed dead as a result of a tornado that hit Shawnee, said Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner’s office.
When Kimberly Graham returned to the spot near Shawnee where her mobile home once stood, her 7-year-old son’s orange bicycle was one of the only items that remained.
“Home, cars, garage, everything — gone,” she told CNN on Monday. “It’s just devastating. Everything that you’ve worked for. Everything that you’ve built.”
As many as 28 tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa, according to the National Weather Service, with Oklahoma and Kansas the hardest hit. Some of those reports might have been of the same tornado.
Early Monday morning, a tornado touched down in Golden City, Missouri, and tore through two counties, Barton County Emergency Management Director Tom Ryan said. The number of injuries and extent of damage were not immediately clear.
In Oklahoma, the storm left highways littered with debris, smashed cars and flipped over semi trucks. An 18-wheeler blew off an overpass on Interstate 40 and was practically flattened.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after tornadoes tore through 16 counties in her state Sunday. Twenty-three people were injured, she told CNN.
The governor surveyed damage throughout the state Monday, including a street where one of her own staffers lost her home.
“She was cooking dinner, and one of her neighbors texted her and said, ‘You’d better hurry right now down the street, because we see the tornado coming.’ So she left the kitchen and ran out, left her dogs in the house,” Fallin told CNN.
When the staffer came back to the property several hours later, the dogs were there, Fallin said, but her house had been destroyed.
“It’s totally devastating here, massive destruction,” the governor said. “We’re just very fortunate that we didn’t have more loss of life in this area.”
A stark landscape where homes once stood
Ethan Mignard, who works in Shawnee, told CNN’s iReport that the stark landscape in nearby Dale, Oklahoma, after the storm passed looked like something he’d only seen before on TV.
Large, rectangular patches of dirt were all that remained where mobile homes once stood. Cinder blocks were scattered across the ground like children’s toys. Twisted metal and pieces of insulation filled the trees. At the site of one home, all that remained were the front steps.
“It looks so out of place. … To think that you would have taken these stairs to enter a home,” he said, “but instead, you look around from up there and you see total destruction everywhere.”
More tornadoes were spotted in Iowa, near Earlham, Huxley and east of Dallas Center, according to the National Weather Service.
The agency also confirmed a twister in the northwestern Illinois county of Carroll.
A combination of factors — including strong winds and warm, moist air banging against dry air — means severe weather could continue sweeping across a wide swath of the United States for days, Petersons said.
“Keep in mind we have all the ingredients out there that we need,” she said.
Tornado watches are in effect for portions of southeastern Kansas, western and central Missouri, northwest Arkansas, central and eastern Oklahoma and northwestern Texas until 10 p.m. (11 p.m. ET).