Four dead after Oklahoma tornado outbreak

Four people were killed yesterday in an outbreak of violent weather that dropped tornadoes across Oklahoma, tossing cars off highways and flipping mobile homes, officials said.

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokesman Jerry Lojka said one person was killed in Oklahoma City and three were killed in Tecumseh, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast. The agency did not have any additional details, including how the people died.

Officials reported that at least seven others suffered mainly minor injuries in the daylong onslaught, which forecasters had predicted since last week. The storms were part of a violent weather system that also spawned twisters in Kansas and elsewhere in Oklahoma.

In Tecumseh, police had cordoned off damaged areas in neighborhoods left in darkness after the power was knocked out. Officials said at least 31,000 homes and business in Oklahoma were without power Monday night.

Many Oklahoma residents had been prepared for the bad weather. TV broadcasters dedicated their entire day to storm coverage, with some showing live video of the twisters as they rolled across the countryside.

"The kids and I got in the closet and prayed," said Jamie Keyes, of Norman, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City. "I heard a hiss. It was like something was whistling very loud," she said. "We're all very fortunate."

Interstate 40, a major east-west route, was closed in both directions just east of the city because of widespread destruction. Traffic was backed up three miles (five kilometers).

A Love's truck stop took a direct hit.

"Miracle of all miracles, we don't have any injuries from that location," Love's spokeswoman Christina Dukeman said. "We will rebuild and reopen."

Interstate 35, which runs from Mexico to Minnesota, also was closed briefly at the Kansas-Oklahoma border because overturned tractor-trailers blocked all lanes. At Moore, near Oklahoma City, trucks were overturned in the median but the road remained open.

In Kansas, the most serious damage was reported in Belmont. Several homes were damaged in the town east of Topeka and widespread power outages were reported. No injuries were reported.

Hours after hitting Oklahoma, the tornado-producing storm cell was poised to enter Arkansas.

Oklahoma City and its suburbs saw three storms develop just to the west and each caused damage as they moved across an area home to 1.2 million people.

The northern storm caused property damage near Edmond; two storms to the south turned into killers — the one fatality near the truck stop and the three at Tecumseh, on the metro area's eastern edge.

"We've had a very strange event: multiple tornadic portions with this event as it came through," said David Barnes, the emergency management director for Oklahoma County. "We have multiple vehicles overturned, a housing addition has had multiple homes destroyed."

In Alfalfa County, Sheriff Charlie Tucker said hail as big as baseballs broke the windshields of numerous cars and damaged some homes.

The Storm Prediction Center at Norman had predicted the outbreak, saying the atmosphere had the right mix of winds, heat and moisture. One twister touched down just east of the center's building on the University of Oklahoma campus.

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