Nearly 100 tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Iowa early on Sunday, killing six people in one Oklahoma town, three of them young girls, as storm sirens failed to sound.
A twister struck the northwest Oklahoma city of Woodward 12:18 a.m. on Sunday, catching many in the town of 12,000 people unaware when storm sirens failed to sound after lightning apparently disabled the warning system, Mayor Roscoe Hill said.
Local Oklahoma City television station KOCO Eyewitness News 5 reported a man named Frank Hobbie and his two daughters, ages 5 and 7, died after the tornado hit Hide A Way mobile home park, State medical examiner spokeswoman Amy Elliot said. She said the other victims were Darren Juul and a 10-year-old girl, who died when the home they were in a few miles away was hit. The men's ages and the children's names haven't been released.
Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said Monday morning the state medical examiner's office has now confirmed a sixth person dead, a man whose wife remains in critical condition at a hospital.
Retired firefighter Marty Logan told the Associated Press he spotted the tornado when it knocked down power lines, causing flashes of light, and saw a radio tower's blinking lights go black shortly after midnight. He later saw a man emerge from a twisted, wrecked sport utility vehicle that had been tossed along the side of the road.
"The guy had blood coming down his face," Logan said, adding that he saw people walking down the street covered in blood when he went to a hard-hit neighborhood. "It was scary, because I knew it was after midnight and a lot of people were in bed."
In the tiny western Iowa town of Thurman, piles of toppled trees lined the streets in front of homes where missing walls and roofs exposed soaked living rooms. Longtime resident Ted Stafford recalled feeling his home shake, then hearing three windows shatter as the storm hit. He said he was amazed that no one in town was seriously injured, The Associated Press reported.
"We're all OK, fortunately. Nobody's hurt. We can fuel this recovery with beans and coffee," the 54-year-old said while standing on the broken concrete of what had been his home's new basement foundation. "I've seen storms in Thurman. I've lived here my whole life. And this is by far the worst I've ever seen."
Storm chaser Brandon Redmond, a meteorologist with the Severe Weather Alert Team, had quite a scare. He said the twister passed over his vehicle and lifted it 2 feet off the ground while in an industrial area south of Wichita, the state's second-largest metropolitan area after the Kansas City metro area.
"The tornado literally formed over our vehicle," he told Reuters. "I've never been that scared in my life. ... We had power flashes all around us and debris circulating all around the vehicle, sheet metal, parts of a roof, plywood."
Yvonne Tucker rushed to a shelter with about 60 of her neighbors at Pinaire Mobile Home Park, Dawn News reported. She said people were crying and screaming, and the shelter’s lights in Wichita late Saturday night went out when the twister hit. When they came back outside, they found several homes destroyed, including hers.
‘‘I didn’t think it was that bad until I walked down my street and everything is gone,’’ Tucker, 49. told Dawn News ‘‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go. I’ve seen it on TV, but when it happens to you it is unreal. I just feel lost.’’
According to the Associated Press, in Nebraska, large hail shattered windows and tore siding from houses in and around Petersburg, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of Omaha. In southeast Nebraska, an apparent tornado took down barns, large trees and some small rural structures.
According to Al Jazeera news, the US tornado season started early this year, with twisters already blamed for 57 deaths in 2012 in the Midwest and South, raising concerns that this year would be a repeat of 2011, the deadliest tornado year in nearly a century.
Some 550 people died in tornadoes last year, Al Jazeera reported.