Tornadoes kill 5 in Oklahoma

Photo by Candice Budgick

Photo by Candice Budgick

SEMINOLE, Okla. -- Families picked through broken furniture and dented appliances outside their toppled homes on Tuesday as garbage trucks scooped up mattresses and other debris left over from violent storms that tore through the southern Plains, killing five people and injuring dozens.

Several tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma and Kansas as Monday's storms moved through the area, dumping hail as big as softballs, splintering homes and downing hundreds of power lines. More storms were possible Tuesday night.

Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Cecil Clay refused to rule out the possibility of finding more dead but said conditions were tough for rescue workers Tuesday.

''We have heavy fog (and) power lines down making it difficult to see all the hazards out there,'' he said.

The line of storms swept through Kansas and into Oklahoma on Monday evening, leveling houses and flipping cars. Forecasters using advanced technology, fueled by supercomputers crunching atmospheric data, began predicting the severe weather last week.

Two people were killed in Oklahoma City -- including a young boy hit by debris in his home and a man whose recreational vehicle flipped over on top of him -- and three in Cleveland County, south of the city, officials said. At least 58 others were injured -- two of them critically.

Near Seminole, about 60 miles east of Oklahoma City, at least two homes were leveled after a tornado tore through the area, Emergency Management Director Ernie Willis said. The town's airport suffered extensive damage and several planes were destroyed, he said.

On Tuesday, uprooted trees lay cracked in half, and the faint smell of cedar drifted through the air. Utility poles were down, lining parts of Okla. Highway 99, and pickup trucks carted away damaged mattresses and other items. The Varnum School District near Seminole also said it would be closed for the rest of the week -- and possibly the rest of the school year -- after the tornado destroyed a pre-kindergarten building and damaged other parts of the campus, Superintended John Sheridan said.

Siblings Maria and Alejandro Martinez sifted through debris at the site where their mobile home had stood. The storm had blown it off of its foundation and threw it 50 feet away, scattering their furniture, appliances and other household items around the yard.

Alejandro, 14, said the family was inside their home when it started moving Monday evening. They were thrown from the home and suffered cuts and bruises. Their father, who also was at home, had a broken arm, they said.

''It started shaking and the lights went out,'' Maria, 12, said.

Nearby, Yolanda Suarez and her relatives tried to salvage what they could from the wreckage. Appliances -- including a washer, dryer and refrigerator -- sat exposed on one of her mobile home after the storm tore off its roof and knocked down walls.

The only part of the home left standing was the bedroom Suarez hid in.

''She just ran into the room. She didn't want to leave. She thought it was more dangerous to leave than to stay inside,'' her relative Victor Rodriguez said.