The Wichita Eagle, Chris Neal, Associated Press
WOODWARD, Okla. — Bleary-eyed residents were scouring through damaged homes across the Midwest on Sunday after a violent storm system unleashed dozens of overnight tornadoes, killing at least five people in Oklahoma, leveling homes in Iowa and Kansas, and cutting power to hundreds of thousands.
More than 100 tornadoes had been reported across the region by daybreak, according to the National Weather Service. Although the storm system was weakening as it crawled into Arkansas and Missouri and additional tornadoes were unlikely, forecasters warned that strong thunderstorms were expected as far east as Michigan.
Five people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in Oklahoma, where a suspected tornado ripped through a mobile home park in Woodward, about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Streets in the 12,000-resident town were left dotted with mangled vehicles, toppled power lines and leveled buildings.
Retired firefighter Marty Logan said 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."
Search teams were scouring rubble for trapped and injured as the sun came up.
"They're still going door to door and in some cases, there are piles of rubble and they are having to sift through the rubble," said Michelann Ooten, an Oklahoma emergency management official.
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.
"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."
The storms were part of an exceptionally strong system that the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., which specializes in tornado forecasting, had warned about for days. The center took the unusual step of warning people more than 24 hours in advance of a possible "high-end, life-threatening event." Forecasters had worried the storms would hit overnight, when people are less likely to hear warning sirens and pay attention to weather reports.
At the storm's height, tornadoes popped up faster than they could be tallied. The center's spokesman, Chris Vaccaro, said the weather service had received at least 120 reports of tornadoes by dawn Sunday.
He warned the threat wasn't over for those across several states in the nation's interior. Forecasters predicted the possibility for storms Sunday in a swath that stretched from southern Texas to northern Michigan.
The outbreak began when tornado sirens went off before dawn in Oklahoma City on Saturday. As the wide-ranging storm system lumbered across the nation, storms also were reported in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Lightning, large hail and heavy downpours accompanied the system.
Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill said warning sirens sounded loudly on Saturday afternoon when storms rumbled through but he didn't hear the sirens go off for Sunday's tornado. He said the tornado struck a mixed area of residences and businesses and possibly damaged a mobile home park.
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