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Tornadoes slam Midwest, leaving one dead

by SEAN MURPHY Associated Press on May 20, 2013 10:39 AM

SHAWNEE, Okla. — Hearing on the radio that a violent storm was approaching her rural Oklahoma neighborhood, Lindsay Carter took advantage of the advanced warning, gathered her belongings and fled. When she returned, there was little left of the community she called home.

Several tornadoes struck parts of the nation’s midsection Sunday, concentrating damage in central Oklahoma and Wichita, Kan. One person was killed near Shawnee, Okla., and 21 injuries were reported throughout the state.

Victims and emergency responders might not get much of reprieve as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center was forecasting similar weather for today over much of the same area.

The worst of the damage Sunday appeared to be at the Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park located amid gently rolling hills 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City.

“It took a dead hit,” resident James Hoke said. Emerging from a storm cellar where he sought refuge with his wife and two children, Hoke found that their mobile home had vanished. “Everything is gone.”

Hoke said he started trying to help neighbors and found his wife’s father covered in rubble.

“My father-in-law was buried under the house. We had to pull sheetrock off of him,” Hoke said.

Forecasters had been warning of bad weather since last Wednesday and on Sunday said conditions had ripened for powerful tornadoes. Wall-to-wall broadcasts of storm information spread the word Sunday, leaving Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth grateful.

“There was a possibility a lot more people could have been injured,” Booth said. “This is the worst I’ve seen in Pottawatomie County in my 25 years of law enforcement.”

Booth said a 79-year-old man was found dead out in the open at Steelman Estates.

“You can see where there’s absolutely nothing, then there are places where you have mobile home frames on top of each other, debris piled up,” Booth said. “It looks like there’s been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour. It’s pretty bad. It’s pretty much wiped out.”

Tornadoes were reported Sunday in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma as part of a storm system that stretched from Texas to Minnesota.

Following the Oklahoma twisters, local emergency officials went from home site to home site in an effort to account for everyone.

Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said that, many times in such situations, people who are not found immediately are discovered later to have left the area ahead of the storm.

A storm spotter told the National Weather Service that the tornado left the earth “scoured” at the mobile home park. At the nearby intersection of Interstate 40 and U.S. 177, a half-dozen tractor-trailers were blown over, closing both highways for a time.

“It seemed like it went on forever. It was a big rumbling for a long time,” said Shawn Savory, standing outside his damaged remodeling business in Shawnee. “It was close enough that you could feel like you could reach out and touch it.”

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