Midwest prepares for dangerous storms after deadly tornado in Oklahoma

Debris and damage from powerful storms that hit Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Photo / AP

Weather forecasters warned residents of several Midwestern states to brace for dangerous storms, a day after a powerful tornado ripped through a small town in Oklahoma, killing at least one person and destroying dozens of homes.

The National Weather Service said a few tornadoes were spotted in southwestern Michigan, including one that destroyed parts of Portage. Photos posted to Facebook showed serious damage to the roof of a FedEx building and debris covering delivery trucks. It was not immediately known if there were any injuries.

A tornado warning was issued Tuesday afternoon for parts of Northeast Indiana, Southern Michigan and Northwest Ohio with the possibility of tornadoes, large hail and wind gusts up to 70 mph.

Tuesday’s storms were not expected to pose as much of a threat as Monday’s, said Roger Edwards, chief forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

The Storm Prediction Center cited 17 reports of tornadoes from Monday evening through early Tuesday in the central United States. Eight of the twisters were in Oklahoma, two each in Kansas, South Dakota and Iowa, and one each in Nebraska, Missouri and Tennessee. The powerful storms come amid a wild wave of severe weather around the world, including some of the worst flooding in Brazil and a brutal heat wave in Asia.

A deadly tornado that touched down in Oklahoma Monday evening ripped through the 1,000-person town of Barnsdall, about a 40-minute drive north of Tulsa. The National Weather Service there had warned Monday evening that “a large and life-threatening tornado” was moving toward Barnsdall, packing winds up to 70 mph. It was the second tornado to hit the city in five weeks: an April 1 tornado with maximum winds of 90-100 mph (145-161 km/h) damaged homes and blew down trees and utility poles.

Debris and damage from powerful storms that hit Barnsdall, Oklahoma.  Photo / AP
Debris and damage from powerful storms that hit Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Photo / AP

At least 30 to 40 homes in the Barnsdall area were damaged Monday evening, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported, and a nursing home said it evacuated residents after a gas leak could not be stopped due to storm damage.

One person died in the city and one man was missing, Barnsdall Mayor Johnny Kelley said.

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

“Several houses have been destroyed and completely razed to the ground,” he said. “The hardest thing for me as mayor is that this is a small community. I know 75-80 percent of the people in this city.”

First responders rescued about 25 people, including children, from badly damaged homes where buildings had collapsed on or around them, Kelley said. About a half-dozen people were injured, including a firefighter who was taken to a hospital with chest pains, he said.

Authorities launched a secondary search Tuesday morning to find a man who is still missing, Kelley said.

The Barnsdall Nursing Home posted online that all residents were without injuries. They were taken to other facilities. Families were asked to bear this “because there is chaos in the city… Please pray for us.”

Aerial photographs of Barnsdall showed several well-built houses reduced to rubble, and others with torn-off roofs and damaged walls still standing. The powerful destroyer downed vehicles, downed power lines and stripped branches and bark from trees in the city. A 64-acre laundry production facility in the community also suffered heavy damage, Kelley said.

Kevin Stitt, who surveyed the damage, said the tornado was rated by weather researchers as an EF4, which is described as a violent tornado with winds up to 200 mph. Stitt said he and legislative leaders agreed to set aside $45 million in this year’s budget to help storm-damaged communities.

“Oklahomans are resilient and we are going to rebuild,” Stitt said.

Damage was also reported in Bartlesville, about 20 miles (32 km) northeast.

At the Hampton Inn in Bartlesville, several splintered 2x4s were driven into the south side of the building. Chunks of insulation, twisted metal and other debris littered the hotel’s lawn, and vehicles in the parking lot were heavily damaged by smashed windows.

Matthew Macedo, 30, who was staying at the hotel, said he rushed to the hotel lobby with his coworker after hearing the tornado sirens and was then led to the hotel washroom to wait out the storm.

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

“We lost power…that’s kind of the first indication that things were real,” he said. “When the impact happened it was incredibly sudden.”

The weather was bad on Monday, causing gusts of wind and rain. But tornadoes were seen along northern Oklahoma after dark. At some point in the evening, a storm in the small town of Covington had “produced tornadoes for more than an hour,” according to the National Weather Service. Throughout the area, wind farm turbines were spinning rapidly in the wind and blinding rain.

A car lies on its side after a tornado ripped through Sulfur, Oklahoma, in April.  Photo / AP
A car lies on its side after a tornado ripped through Sulfur, Oklahoma, in April. Photo / AP

The storms tore through Oklahoma as areas like Sulfur and Holdenville were still recovering from a tornado that killed four people and left thousands without power last month. Both the Plains and the Midwest have been ravaged by tornadoes this spring.

Oklahoma and Kansas are under a high risk weather warning. The last time such a warning was issued was on March 31 of last year, when a massive storm system tore through parts of the South and Midwest, including Arkansas, Illinois and rural Indiana.

The whole week looks stormy in the US. The eastern U.S. and the South are expected to bear the brunt of the bad weather for the rest of the week, including in Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Cincinnati, cities that are home to more than 21 million people. It should be clear by the weekend.