* Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa are hit by twisters
* More storms forecast for Sunday in Plains
By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY, April 15 Clean-up efforts were
underway across the Midwest on Sunday after dozens of tornadoes
ripped across the region, killing five people in one Oklahoma
town, three of them young girls, after storm sirens failed to
sound and houses were reduced to rubble.
Storms skipped through what is often called "Tornado Alley"
in the U.S. Central and Southern Plains on Saturday and into
Sunday, but the high winds and dozens of tornadoes mostly struck
rural areas, sparing the region from worse damage.
The storms left thousands without power in Kansas, hit an
aircraft fuselage production facility, and damaged up to 90
percent of homes and buildings in a small Iowa town. The
governors of Kansas and Oklahoma declared states of emergency.
The stormy weekend wasn't over for the Midwest. The National
Weather Service declared tornado watches in Arkansas through
Missouri and into a corner of Illinois, as well as in parts of
Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But the likelihood of the most
destructive tornadoes was low.
Damaging thunderstorms were also predicted from Minnesota
south to Texas into Sunday night, according to AccuWeather.com.
A twister struck the northwest Oklahoma city of Woodward
after midnight on Sunday, catching many in the town of 12,000
people unaware when storm sirens failed to sound after lightning
apparently disabled the warning system, Mayor Roscoe Hill said.
"This thing took us by surprise," Hill said. "It's kind of
The Woodward tornado killed three young girls and two
adults, according to Amy Elliott of the Oklahoma Medical
Examiner's Office. Two girls, ages 5 and 7, died along with a
man thought to be their father in a mobile home park.
A 10-year-old girl and a man were also killed in the small
community of Tangiers, just outside the Woodward city limits.
A total of 29 people were treated at Woodward Regional
Hospital, chief executive officer Dave Wallace said. Of those,
five were in critical condition and moved to other hospitals.
Woodward city manager Alan Riffel told CNN that all the
missing people had been accounted for, but 89 homes and 13
businesses had been destroyed.
"It's remarkable we didn't have more loss of life," Governor
Mary Fallin told a news conference, saying many Woodward
residents had either gone to sleep or dropped their guard after
an earlier series of storms swept through the area.
She spoke to several whose homes were struck, including a
man who said he was asleep on his sofa with his dog when the
tornado hit, depositing them unhurt in the backyard.
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 tiny Thurman, Iowa, population 250, some 75 percent to 90
percent of the town's buildings and homes were damaged or
destroyed by the storm, Fremont County Emergency Management
Coordinator Mike Crecelius said. Only minor injuries were
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.
The National Storm Prediction Center had an unofficial count
of 98 tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, starting
Saturday morning and going until early Sunday.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Kansas, but
about 11,000 people were reported without power, most of them
around Wichita, Sharon Watson, a spokesperson for the state's
National Guard and emergency services, said in a statement.
The storm damaged a hangar at McConnell Air Force Base in
Wichita and destroyed several homes around the area, authorities
Storm chaser Brandon Redmond, a meteorologist with the
Severe Weather Alert Team, said the twister passed over his
vehicle and lifted it 2 feet (60 cm) off the ground in an
industrial area south of Wichita, the state's second-largest
metropolitan area after the Kansas City metro area.
"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."
Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Tim Norton said the
tornado missed downtown Wichita and heavily populated
neighborhoods and passed through areas to the south and east
where there are manufacturing businesses and mobile home parks.
"With the storms we saw coming our way, it could have been
much worse," Norton said. "We lucked out."
The damage included a Spirit Aerosystems production
facility that manufactures fuselages for Boeing's 7-series
airplanes. A Spirit spokesman said the facility was shut down on
Sunday after a tornado damaged the roof and knocked out power,
but the company hoped to have the plant running again soon.
"We do believe that the majority of the operational
capabilities and facilities are intact," spokesman Ken Evans