(Clarifies Wichita is the second-largest metro area of Kansas
after Kansas City)
* Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa are hit by twisters
* At least five dead in Oklahoma town as storm siren fails
By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY, April 15 Dozens of tornadoes tore
through parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa overnight
and one twister killed at least five people early on Sunday as
storm sirens failed to sound in an Oklahoma town and caught
Storms skipped across what is often called "Tornado Alley"
in the U.S. Central and Southern Plains and more were forecast.
But casualties appeared limited because many of the twisters
hit sparsely populated areas, and during daylight hours or
evening when people were still awake.
In Oklahoma, a twister struck the northwest city of Woodward
early on Sunday morning after lightning apparently disabled its
storm warning system, Mayor Roscoe Hill said.
Two children died at the Hide A Way mobile home park on the
west side of Woodward, a town of 12,000 people, while two adults
were killed in a small community just outside the city limits,
Hill said. Details of the fifth death were not immediately
known, according to Keli Cain, spokeswoman for Oklahoma
"This thing took us by surprise," Hill said, adding storm
sirens had not sounded. "It's kind of overwhelming."
Hill said he was told the tornado hit the west and north
sides of the city, badly damaging an apartment complex where
residents were trapped and awaiting rescue.
A tornado that struck Woodward in April 1947 still ranks as
the deadliest in Oklahoma history, with 116 people killed,
according to the National Weather Service.
In Kansas, a twister also churned through parts of Wichita,
the state's second-largest metropolitan area after the Kansas
City metro area. Storm chaser Brandon Redmond, a meteorologist
with the Severe Weather Alert Team, said the twister passed over
his vehicle and lifted it two feet (60 cm) off the ground in an
industrial area south of the city.
"The tornado literally formed over our vehicle," he told
Reuters. "I've never been that scared in my life. ... We had
power flashes all around us and debris circulating all around
the vehicle, sheet metal, parts of a roof, plywood."
Damage was reported to a mobile home park, and Redmond said
there was significant damage in the industrial area on the
city's south side. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Residents in the affected Plains states and in a wide area
of the middle of the United States stretching from Minnesota to
Texas hunkered down for more severe weather. The National
Weather Service said the worst conditions were expected in
Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas, while other areas could see
baseball-sized hail and strong winds.
"Conditions will remain very favorable ... for very strong
and potentially long-lived tornadoes," the National Weather
Service said in an advisory.
It warned that nighttime tornadoes could be particularly
dangerous because they are usually fast-moving and often
obscured by rain and darkness.
EARLY TORNADO SEASON
The U.S. tornado season started early this year, with
twisters already blamed for 62 deaths in 2012 in the Midwest and
South, raising concerns that this year would be a repeat of
2011, the deadliest tornado year in nearly a century.
Some 550 people died in tornadoes last year, including 316
killed in an April outbreak in five Southern states, and 161
people in Joplin, Missouri, the following month.
As of early Sunday morning, the National Weather Service
website said it had received preliminary reports of 121
tornadoes across four states over the previous 24 hours. Some
could be duplicate reports of the same tornado and it usually
takes experts at least a day or so to confirm if they were
In Iowa, The Greater Regional Medical Center hospital in
Creston was damaged by a possible tornado, said a woman who
answered the phone there but declined to give her name.
An Iowa emergency management spokesman said two people were
injured, but the National Weather Service could not immediately
confirm the storm was a tornado.
Creston City Councilman Randy White said patients were being
moved to hospitals in surrounding communities after the tornado
passed north and west of downtown, knocking out power to all but
a small part of the town of about 7,500 people.
The tiny Iowa town of Thurman, population around 250, was
also hit by a storm that caused structural damage to some homes
and ripped shingles off the roofs of others while downing power
poles and trees, officials said.
"Some kind of a storm went through, whether it was a
straight wind or tornado hasn't been determined," said Randy
Chapman, a deputy at the Fremont County Sheriff's Office. "I
would estimate a fourth of the houses have been made unlivable."
Tornadoes also raced through north-central Kansas in the
early evening. Five homes in rural Saline County were damaged,
but the tornado avoided towns and no one was hurt, said Joe
Koch, county director of emergency management.
An apparent tornado near Oxford, Nebraska, on Saturday
evening took a roof off a farm house and toppled a grain bin but
no injuries or other serious damage in the area were reported,
said Bridget Timmerman, a dispatcher for the Harlan County
Tornadoes briefly touched down earlier in Nebraska's
Nuckolls County and Thayer County.
(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan, Steve Olafson and Tim Gaynor;
Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Greg McCune)