Tornadoes, flash floods upend the Oklahoma City area

By KEN MILLER
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Authorities are assessing the damage from spring storms that spawned more than a dozen suspected tornadoes in the southern Plains, destroying dozens of homes, causing flooding and forcing the evacuation of Oklahoma City's main airport.

At least 12 people were injured but there were no reports of deaths.

Tornadoes were reported Wednesday night in Texas, Kansas and Nebraska, but the Oklahoma City area seemed to be hardest hit. A twister destroyed homes in Grady County, southwest of the city, and it appeared another tornado touched down in the area later Wednesday evening when a second storm came through.

"We do strongly think there was a tornado on the south side of Oklahoma City," meteorologist Michael Scotten said after the second storm that hit around 8:40 p.m.

The storm flipped vehicles on at least one major Oklahoma highway and left power lines strewn across the roadway, Scotten said. Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport was evacuated twice, and passengers and staff were moved to a tunnel outside the security zone.

Five to 8 inches of rain fell in the area, said Forrest Mitchell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma. The 7.1 inches that fell at the Oklahoma City airport easily eclipsed the previous daily high of 2.61 inches, he said.

Oklahoma City spokeswoman Kristy Yager said the rainfall prompted the city to issue its first flash flood emergency.

Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for Emergency Medical Services Authority, said ambulances responded to water rescues "all over" the Oklahoma City metro area. Two ambulance crews required also assistance after getting stuck in high water, she said.

Lt. John Vincent of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said early Thursday that troopers responded to many emergency calls for stranded vehicles overnight and that all stuck vehicles were searched for trapped motorists. He said all flooded roads have reopened except for the H.E. Bailey Turnpike, which is partially closed.

O'Leary said ambulances took 12 residents from a trailer park in south Oklahoma City to hospitals. She had no details about their injuries.

Fire department divers worked for hours before rescuing a motorist who got trapped in her car by flooding in northeast Oklahoma City, police Capt. Dee Patty said. A flash flood warning was in effect for the area through 9 a.m.

Grady County Emergency Management Director Dale Thompson said about 10 homes were destroyed in Amber and 25 were destroyed in Bridge Creek. As the storm moved east, forecasters declared a tornado emergency for Moore, where a huge twister killed 24 people two years ago, including seven schoolchildren. When the first of the storms moved through Wednesday, school districts held their pupils in safe places.

Also in Grady County, all animals were accounted for after a zoo in Tuttle was hit by a tornado, Alisa Voegeli, a dispatcher at the sheriff's office, said. The damage initially sparked fears that wild animals had escaped.

A flash flood warning was in effect for parts of six counties in central Oklahoma and two counties in northern Texas. That area also experienced possible tornadoes late Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, Mitchell said.

In Nebraska, a total of 10 to 15 homes were damaged near Grand Island and between Hardy and Ruskin, near the Kansas line. Minor flooding was reported in Lincoln after 5 to 7 inches of rain fell, and the weather service issued flood warnings for much of the southeast of the state.

At least nine tornadoes were reported in Kansas, the strongest touching down in the sparsely populated north-central part of the state. That included a large tornado near the tiny town of Republic just south of the Nebraska state line, where some homes were damaged. In Harvey County, a tornado destroyed a hog barn and damaged trees, according to the National Weather Service.

The Storm Prediction Center had warned that bad weather would come to Tornado Alley and said more storms were possible later in the week.

"People just really need to stay weather aware, have a plan and understand that severe storms are possible across portions of the southern Plains almost daily through Saturday," meteorologist Jonathan Kurtz said.

___

Associated Press writers Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; Bill Draper in Kansas City, Missouri; and Sarah Rankin in Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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