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Tornadoes level homes in Okla.

5/20/2013

By SEAN MURPHY

Associated Press

SHAWNEE, Okla. -- Tornadoes ravaged portions of central Oklahoma on Sunday, reducing portions of a mobile home park to rubble and killing a 79-year-old man whose body was found out in the open.

"You can see where there's absolutely nothing, then there are places where you have mobile home frames on top of each other, debris piled up," Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth said after surviving damage in the Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park. "It looks like there's been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour.

"It's pretty bad. It's pretty much wiped out," he said.

The Shawnee tornado was one of several that touched down in the nation's midsection Sunday. Twisters, hail and high winds also struck Iowa and Kansas as part of a massive, northeastward-moving storm system that stretched from Texas to Minnesota.

Across the state, 21 people were injured, not including those who suffered bumps and bruises and chose not to visit a hospital, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Booth said six at Steelman Estates were hurt.

Following the twisters, local emergency officials went from home site to home site in an effort to account for everyone. Cain said that, many times in such situations, people who are not found immediately are discovered later to have left the area ahead of the storm. Booth said everyone from the trailer park had been found.

Forecasters had been warning of a general storm outbreak since Wednesday. For Sunday's storms, some residents had more than a half-hour's notice a twister was on the way. Tornado watches and warnings were in effect through late Sunday in much of the nation's midsection.

The trailer park west of Shawnee was among the hardest-hit areas, and among the hardest to reach, as tractor-trailers that forced the closure of a section of Interstate 40 north of the site and power lines draped across roads to the south.

James Hoke lives with his wife and two children in Steelman Estates. He said the family went into their storm cellar as the storm approached. When they came out, their mobile home had vanished.

"It took a dead hit," Hoke said.

A storm spotter told the National Weather Service the tornado left the earth "scoured" at the mobile home park -- using a term used by storm chasers to describe grass being ripped out by high winds.

"It seemed like it went on forever. It was a big rumbling for a long time," said Shawn Savory, standing outside his damaged remodeling business in Shawnee. "It was close enough that you could feel like you could reach out and touch it."

In Wichita, a tornado touched down near Mid-Content Airport on the city's southwest side shortly before 4 p.m., knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses but bypassing the most populated areas of Kansas' biggest city. The Wichita tornado was an EF1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with winds of 110 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Randy Duncan said there were no reports of fatalities or injuries in Kansas.

A tornado touch-down was reported in rural Lyon County, causing structural damage to homes.

Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said the tornado hit at approximately 5:40 p.m. Sunday. She didn't know how many homes sustained damage.

There also were two reports of tornadoes touching down in Iowa on Sunday night, including one near Huxley, approximately 20 miles north of Des Moines, and one in Grundy County, which is northeast of Des Moines, according to the Des Moines Register.

There were no immediate reports of significant damage or injuries.

In Oklahoma, aerial television news footage showed homes with significant damage northeast of Oklahoma City. Some outbuildings appeared to have been leveled, and some homes' roofs or walls had been knocked down.

"When I first drove into the neighborhood, I didn't see any major damage until I pulled into the front of my house," said Csaba Mathe, of Edmond, who found a part of his neighbor's fence in his swimming pool. "My reaction was: I hope insurance pays for the cleaning."

"I typically have two trash cans, and now I have five in my driveway."

The Storm Prediction Center had been warning about severe weather in the region since Wednesday, and on Friday, it zeroed in on Sunday as the day the storm system likely would pass through.

"They've been calling for this all day," Edmond resident Anita Wright said after riding out the twister in an underground shelter. She and her husband, Ed, emerged from their hiding place to find uprooted trees, downed limbs and damaged gutters in their home.

In Katie Leathers' backyard, the family's trampoline was tossed through a section of fence and a giant tree uprooted.

"I saw all the trees waving, and that's when I grabbed everyone and got into two closets," Leathers said. "All these trees just snapped."