(CNN) — Thousands of people in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, including the twister-ravaged community of Moore, were scrambling for shelter on Friday after the National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for the area.
At least three tornadoes have reportedly touched down: one southwest of the suburb of Bethany, one north of Union City and another outside Tinker Air Force Base, according to the National Weather Service’s Norman, Oklahoma, office.
Parts of Interstates 35 and 40, which cut through Oklahoma City and Moore, were “a parking lot,” the weather service said, warning that those caught in the heavy rush hour traffic “are in danger.”
“Please try to get to a building or safe shelter!” the weather service tweeted.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol described the situation as dire.
Overturned big rigs and cars littered portions of the roadway, and thousands more were believed to be stuck in the traffic.
“My biggest concern right now is the traffic that is out on the highway right now,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said.
She said she has called out the National Guard, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the state Office of Emergency Management to “try to get the traffic moving” and get people to shelter.
Police and firefighters were responding to reports of damage in El Reno, just outside Union City, but it was not immediately known how bad the damage was, Mayor Matt White said.
The tornado emergency declaration means a large, destructive tornado is moving into a densely populated area where widespread damage and fatalities could occur.
The weather service issued the tornado emergency for Oklahoma City as well as its suburbs of Moore, Yukon and Bethany.
Authorities were urging people in the path of the tornado to take immediate cover, and Fallin was urging residents not to take any risks.
In Moore, where a massive tornado leveled much of the city this month, Mayor Glenn Lewis said it was unimaginable that the city was in the path of another tornado.
Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport was evacuated over the threat from the approaching tornado, which the National Weather Service said was moving at 40 mph.
The storm was so fierce that the Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes, known for his on-the-ground severe weather reports, said his Tornado Hunt vehicle was thrown about 200 yards.
“Airbags deployed. All are safe,” Bettes said in a post on Twitter.
About 12,000 customers were without power by early Friday evening in the Oklahoma City area because of severe weather, the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. said.
More than half the city of Mustang, 17 miles south of Oklahoma City, was without power, Mustang Fire Chief Roy Widmann said.