OKLAHOMA CITY — A violent storm formed over the prairie west of Oklahoma City late Friday afternoon, dropped a tornado in a suburb and rolled into the state capital as viewers brave enough to remain above ground watched on statewide television. State troopers reported a number of injuries.
Storm chasers with cameras in their car transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. Police urged motorists to leave the crosstown Interstate 40 and seek a safe place.
The scene was eerily like that from last week, when blackened skies generated a top-of-the-scale EF5 storm with 210 mph winds, killing 24 people at Moore, on Oklahoma City's south side. Friday's storms were moving just to the north of Moore and appeared not to be as strong as last week's storm.
"They're just tooling around right now. They're starting to dissipate a little bit," said Nick Mosley, who works at the Love's Travel Stop in El Reno. Motorists packed the store as the storm approached.
At Will Rogers World Airport southwest of Oklahoma City, passengers were directed into underground tunnels and inbound and outbound flights were canceled.
Damage was reported in Canadian County, immediately to the west of the capital city, and television cameras showed debris falling from the sky and power transformers being knocked out by high winds.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a number of motorists were injured and that a few were missing. Numerous vehicles were damaged, leaving motorists stranded on the sides of roads, Trooper Betsy Randolph said.
As the storm bore down on suburban Oklahoma City, Adrian Lillard, 28, of The Village, went to the basement of her mother's office building with a friend, her nieces, nephews and two dogs.
"My brother's house was in Moore, so it makes you take more immediate action," Lillard said while her young nieces played on a blanket on the floor of the parking garage. "We brought toys and snacks to try our best to keep them comfortable."
Well before Oklahoma's first thunderstorms fired up at late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman was already forecasting a violent evening. From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents were told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.
Forecasters warned of a "particularly dangerous situation," with ominous language about strong tornadoes and hail the size of grapefruits — 4 inches in diameter.
Bad weather was also expected in parts of southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri. Tornado warnings were posted for remote areas of far southeastern Kansas and in the prairie well west of Oklahoma City, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Flooding will be a concern in the mid-Mississippi River Valley through the weekend.
Flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas late Thursday and Friday. Three others were missing in floods that followed 6 inches of rain in the rugged Ouachita Mountains near Y City, 125 miles west of Little Rock.
The Fourche La Fave River rose 24 feet overnight, temporarily swamping the U.S. 71 bridge in Scott County.
"The water just comes off that hill like someone is pouring a bucket in there," said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation.
Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter died while trying to check on local residents during the storm and wildlife officer Joel Campora and two others are missing. They had traveled up Mill Creek by boat.
"Other deputies heard a loud crash," said Bill Hollenbeck, the sheriff of neighboring Sebastian County. "They thought that the bridge had actually collapsed. Looking into it further, the house had imploded as a directly result of rising waters from Mill Creek."
A man died after strong winds toppled a tree onto his car in Tull, just west of Little Rock, late Thursday. Authorities also are attributing the death of a woman in Scott County to flooding. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared six counties as disaster areas.
Most tornadoes in the United States are relatively small, but the one that hit Moore on May 20 was a top-of-the scale EF5 with winds at 210 mph. Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes to hit since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been hit the most — seven times each. Moore has been hit twice — last week and in 1999.
This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.
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