DALLAS (AP) — Tornadoes plowed through Oklahoma during another deadly spring storm in the U.S., killing at least three people and damaging dozens of homes in a hard-hit rural town. Forecasters warned Thursday that more severe weather was still possible.
A day after at least eight tornadoes spun through Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt said authorities were still assessing the scale of destruction and injuries. He toured the aftermath in Shawnee, where nearly every building on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University showed damage. A home improvement store was destroyed, but several people sheltering inside survived. Two long-term care facilities and a hospital were also damaged there.
“The damage is unbelievable when you walk through there,” Stitt said after touring the city.
Stitt also toured the small town of Cole, where he said two people died and 50 to 100 homes were damaged. Authorities said a third person who was injured had also died, but it was not immediately clear where that person was injured.
“There are definitely dozens of various injuries, from minor all the way up to fatalities,” said Deputy Sheriff Scott Gibbons of McClain County, the county south of Oklahoma City where Cole is located.
Deadly storms this spring have killed dozens of people across a wide swath of country. More bad weather was possible Thursday night with the main potential being scattered large hail and damaging winds from Texas to Wisconsin, said meteorologist Jeremy Grams with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. There was also the potential for tornadoes in Illinois and Wisconsin, the NWS said.
Gibbons told television station KOCO that one victim in McClain County, where Cole is located, is a 66-year-old man.
Employees of a pizza restaurant in Shawnee said they took shelter in the walk-in freezer, and when they emerged, parts of the roof and shattered windows littered the parking lot.
“My priority was keeping everybody safe, so I hustled everybody into the walk-in,” said Bekah Inman, general manager of a Papa John’s Pizza in Shawnee, told Oklahoma television station KOCO. “There was a lot commotion. People were starting to get a little frantic.”
Following the storms, Stitt declared a state of emergency in five counties: Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie.
At the peak of the storm, there were more than 34,000 power outages reported, but that number had dropped by Thursday evening to about 16,000, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the Office of Homeland Security reported.
KFOR-TV reported that residents south of Oklahoma City said they were trapped in their underground shelters. In Cole, two people emerged unhurt after riding out the storm in a manhole, the television station reported.
A March 31 storm produced tornadoes that killed at least 32 people from Arkansas to Delaware, and days later a tornado left five dead in Missouri. At least 26 died in Mississippi and Alabama when tornadoes during a late March storm carved a path of destruction through the Deep South.
Miller contributed from Jonesboro, Arkansas.