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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At least 5 dead in Oklahoma and Iowa as nighttime tornadoes strike

By Emmett Lindner, Justin Jones and Yan Zhuang

Severe thunderstorms and high winds over the weekend left at least five people dead in Oklahoma and Iowa, including an infant, as a series of tornadoes ripped through the Great Plains, authorities said.

As thunderstorms moved east Sunday, more than 4 million people in parts of five states — Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas — were under a tornado watch, meaning tornadoes were possible over the next few hours. There were also threats of wind damage and large hail, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

The tornadoes hit parts of Iowa on Friday and Oklahoma on Saturday. The cities of Sulphur, Holdenville and Ardmore, Oklahoma were especially hard-hit, according to the National Weather Service.

A man died in Minden, Iowa, on Saturday, succumbing to storm-related injuries, Craig Carlsen, a spokesperson for Pottawattamie County, said by telephone Sunday.

Keli Cain, the public affairs director for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said Sunday that the state’s medical examiner had confirmed two storm-related fatalities in Holdenville and another on Interstate 34, near Marietta.

At a news conference Sunday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that a fourth person had died, in Sulphur. At least 100 other people were injured across the state, the department said. Shelters and emergency kitchens had opened to house and feed displaced residents as local officials coordinated search-and-rescue efforts.

A man and an infant girl were among those killed in Holdenville, the Hughes County Emergency Medical Service said Sunday.

At least 16 homes in Oklahoma were destroyed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a briefing Sunday morning.

On Sunday, Stitt declared a state of emergency for 12 counties and toured Sulphur.

He described the scene there as “just devastating,” adding that it seemed as if every downtown business had been destroyed.

He said early reports suggested a powerful tornado “was kind of blowing right through downtown here and I just haven’t seen this much destruction from my time as governor.”

Video and photos from television station KOCO News showed businesses in downtown Sulphur damaged or leveled, and cars impaled by flying debris.

Julie Jack, 64, who owns a women’s boutique in Sulphur, said Sunday that her business “is completely destroyed and all the contents in it are lost.”

She said that except for a new hotel, “I would have to say every downtown structure is a loss.”

“It looks like a bomb was set off,” she added.

The severe weather came a day after tornadoes tore through parts of Nebraska and Iowa and leveled dozens of homes.

In Iowa, 270 homes and multiple structures were damaged or destroyed in Pottawattamie County, and about 25 homes were damaged or destroyed in Shelby County, according to FEMA.

Nearly 30 tornadoes were reported across the region between Saturday afternoon and early Sunday, including some Saturday night in Kansas, Missouri and Texas, according to the weather service.

Ryan Jewell, a forecaster at the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center, said that the situation Saturday was complicated because there were so many storms.

“They start interacting and there’s several pockets of potential,” he said.

Tornadoes on Friday struck several areas of Nebraska and Iowa, where, in addition to the person who died, several people were injured as winds battered the region, officials said.

At a news conference Saturday in Douglas County, Nebraska, where more than 150 homes were damaged, Chris Franks of the weather service described extensive damage from winds of up to 165 mph.

“These are strong tornadoes, rare tornadoes,” he said, describing a system that started in the Lincoln area, and another tornado that formed over Eppley Airfield in Omaha.

In Minden, Iowa, nearly 50 homes were completely destroyed, local officials said in a news release Sunday.

The weather service said it had received more than 100 reports of tornadoes in at least five states in the Great Plains on Friday.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen said he had visited several hard-hit areas. He called the experience “extraordinarily sobering.”

Phil Enke, an elder at Harvest Alliance Church in Minden, said the place of worship was leveled in Friday’s storms. Enke, 65, walked over splintered wood and debris Saturday afternoon, looking for documents and photographs that he could salvage.

“We were just trying to get stuff that can’t be replaced,” Enke said.

“It’s a hassle and a mess, but you just have to pick up the pieces and move on,” he added.

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