EL RENO, Okla. (AP) — As the East Coast braced for the possibility of severe storms Sunday, the all-too-familiar task of cleaning up went on in Oklahoma after the weekend’s violent weather claimed 10 lives there.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin toured damage in El Reno, about 30 miles from Oklahoma City, on Sunday. She said in an interview that the death toll could rise as emergency workers continue searching flooded areas for missing residents, but didn’t say how many people are believed to be missing.
Shortly after Fallin was interviewed, Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office spokeswoman Amy Elliott said they received another body Saturday evening, increasing the death toll by one.
Two children were among those who died in Friday evening’s tornado, which charged down a clogged Interstate 40 in the western suburbs. The EF3 twister touched down a few miles north of Moore, the Oklahoma City suburb pounded by an EF5 tornado on May 20 that killed 24 people.
“The whole key to this is communication between state, federal and local officials,” Fallin said. “It’s going well — first responders, law enforcement, emergency managers. We’ll rebuild (and) come back even stronger.”
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman predicted a slight chance of severe weather in the Northeast on Sunday, mainly from the Washington, D.C., area to northern Maine. Hail and high winds were the chief threat, though a tornado could not be ruled out, forecasters said.
Oklahoma wasn’t the only state hit by violent weather Friday night. In Missouri, areas west of St. Louis received significant damage from an EF3 tornado Friday night that packed estimated winds of 150 mph. In St. Charles County, at least 71 homes were heavily damaged and 100 had slight to moderate damage, county spokeswoman Colene McEntee said.
Northeast of St. Louis, the town of Roxana, Ill., also saw damage from an EF3 tornado. National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said it wasn’t clear whether the damage in Missouri and Illinois came from the same EF3 twister or separate ones.
A total of five tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City metro area on Friday, the National Weather Service said. Fallin said Sunday that 115 people were injured.
It formed out on the prairie west of Oklahoma City, giving residents plenty of advance notice. When told to seek shelter, many ventured out and snarled traffic across the metro area — perhaps remembering the devastation in Moore.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said roadways quickly became congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents.
“They had no place to go, and that’s always a bad thing. They were essentially targets just waiting for a tornado to touch down,” Randolph said. “I’m not sure why people do that sort of stuff, but it is very dangerous.”
Terri Black, a 51-year-old teacher’s assistant in Moore, said she decided to try and outrun the tornado when she learned her southwest Oklahoma City home was in harm’s way. She quickly regretted it.
“It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives,” she said.
When she realized she was a sitting duck, Black turned around and found herself directly in the path of the most violent part of the storm.
“My car was actually lifted off the road and then set back down,” Black said.
Friday night’s victims included a mother and a baby sucked out of their car as the EF3 hit near El Reno. A 4-year-old boy died after being swept into the Oklahoma River on the south side of Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma City police Lt. Jay Barnett. The boy and other family members had sought shelter in a drainage ditch.