122 tornadoes batter Midwest U.S.

Five people dead and at least 37 injured in Oklahoma as 122 tornadoes batter Midwest ripping through hospitals, homes and tearing apart entire towns

Twister hits northwest town of Woodward, Roscoe Hill, where sirens were ‘not working’
Two children are among the dead amid fears that death toll could rise
More than 120 tornadoes reported
Storm Prediction Center calls outbreak a potentially ‘high-end, life-threatening event’
Heavy winds have already destroyed 75 per cent of Thurman, Iowa
Tornado ripped through hospital in Creston, Iowa
Large hail damaged homes and vehicles in and around Petersburg, Nebraska
Other tornados touched down in southwest Kansas, Oklahoma
Tornadoes predicted to get worse as authorities issue 24-hour high-risk warning for the second time in history

PUBLISHED: 06:09, 14 April 2012 | UPDATED: 18:41, 15 April 2012

Five people were killed and dozens more injured after tornadoes ripped through an Oklahoma town earlier today in an outbreak of twisters that swept through the Midwest and Plains states.

Two of the deaths were children who 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. Details of the fifth death were not immediately known, according to Keli Cain, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Emergency Management.

At the storm’s height, tornadoes popped up faster than they could be tallied. The National Weather Service had received at least 122 reports of tornadoes touching down in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

The killer weather hit the northwest town of Woodward, Roscoe Hill, and battered buildings including houses, a hospital, a jail, an Air Force base and other buildings around the region, officials said.The Mayor said that many residents were caught unaware after storm sirens failed to sound.

Sheriff’s office dispatcher Matt Jones confirmed that two people were dead but said he did not have immediate details. He says the tornado hit part of west Woodward and the nearby town of Tangier.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was reported at 12:18 a.m. on Sunday. Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill said 37 people were injured in the twister, including several critically.

Sirens were not apparently working when the tornado struck as their electricity had been cut by the storm earlier. He said the sirens had been sounding loudly from storms on Saturday afternoon.

‘We had a little tornado earlier … and they blew all the sirens. When this one came in, our sirens weren’t working. We didn’t have a very good storm alert,’ Hill said.

The tornado flattened 87 homes and 13 businesses, up to 250 search and rescue units arrived in the town after the twister hit.

Woodward, a town of about 12,000 people about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, was among the many communities in the nation’s midsection under a ‘high-end, life-threatening event’ that had been issued by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. The center specializes in tornado forecasting and emitted the extraordinary warning nearly two days before the bad weather hit.

Dave Wallace, chief executive officer of Woodward Regional Hospital, said 29 people, five of the in critical condition, were brought to the hospital for treatment of injuries ranging fractures and serious injuries to cuts and bruises. Three patients have been transferred to other hospitals and four were admitted, he added.

‘We transferred them to a hospital with a higher level of care,’ Wallace said. ‘We’re not a trauma center.’

Michelann Ooten, an official with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said that emergency crews remained very much in search and rescue mode at first light, hours after they began operations in darkness.

‘They’re still going door to door and in some cases there are piles of rubble and they are having to sift through the rubble,’ she told AP. ‘They are trying to identify if anyone is still in there, trying to account for everyone.’

Storms were reported yesterday in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Emergency officials in Iowa said that high winds or a tornado damaged a hospital in Creston, but no injuries were reported. Authorities also said about 75 percent of the small western Iowa community of Thurman was destroyed, with no injuries reported there either.

In Nebraska, baseball-sized hail shattered windows and ripped siding from houses. In Oklahoma, more than 5,000 people gathered for a rattlesnake hunt in Woods County scattered when a tornado touched down there, said the county’s emergency management director, Steve Foster.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., which specializes in tornado forecasting, had warned of a ‘high-end, life-threatening event’ nearly two days before the bad weather hit.

It was just the second time in U.S. history that the center issued a high-risk warning more than 24 hours in advance. The first was in April 2006, when nearly 100 tornadoes tore across the southeastern U.S., killing a dozen people and damaging more than 1,000 homes in Tennessee.

The center’s spokesman, Chris Vaccaro, said the weather service had received at least 97 reports of tornadoes by dawn Sunday and survey teams would be heading out to investigate and determine the number of actual tornadoes, their highest winds, and the width and length of their destructive paths. Several large funnel clouds and tornadoes were photographed and videographed during the outbreak.

He warned the threat wasn’t over for those across several states in the nation’s interior.

‘Severe weather is possible in a swath from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan south to eastern Texas and Louisiana,’ Vaccaro said.

National Weather Service forecasters also had issued somber outlooks that the worst of the weather in the Midwest and Plains would hit in the nighttime hours, predicting that conditions were right for exceptionally strong tornadoes. Emergency management officials had worried most about what would happen if potent storms hit when people were sleeping, not paying attention to weather reports and unlikely to hear warning sirens.

A tornado watch in and around Tulsa and some areas continued through daybreak.

The American Red Cross summoned volunteers to drive relief trucks from Oklahoma City to aid the rescue crews in and around Woodward he said were pressed to the limit by the immediate disaster response.

‘They’re in chaos mode,’ said Rusty Surette, a regional communications director for the American Red Cross in Oklahoma City, speaking of authorities in Woodward.

He said trucks with cots, food, water and medical and hygiene supplies would head to the area, where a shelter was established in a church for those rendered homeless.

In Kansas, a reported tornado in Wichita caused damage at McConnell Air Force Base and the Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing plants. A mobile home park was heavily damaged in the city, although no injuries or deaths were reported.

Yvonne Tucker rushed to a shelter with about 60 of her neighbors at Pinaire Mobile Home Park. She said people were crying and screaming, and the shelter’s lights went out when the twister hit. When they came back outside, they found several homes destroyed, including Tucker’s.

‘I didn’t think it was that bad until I walked down my street and everything is gone,’ said Tucker, 49. ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go. I’ve seen it on TV, but when it happens to you it is unreal. I just feel lost.’

Iowa emergency officials said a large part of the town of Thurman in the western part of the state was destroyed Saturday night, possibly by a tornado, but no one was injured or killed. Fremont County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius said about 75 percent of the 250-person town was destroyed. Some residents took refuge at the City Hall.

A hospital in Creston, about 75 miles southwest of Des Moines, suffered roof damage and had some of its windows blown out by the storm, but patients and staff were not hurt. Medical center officials were calling other area hospitals to determine how many beds they had available in case they needed to move patients.

In Nebraska, baseball-sized hail shattered windows and tore siding from houses in and around Petersburg, about 140 miles northwest of Omaha. In southeast Nebraska, an apparent tornado took down barns, large trees and some small rural structures. Johnson County emergency director Clint Strayhorn said he was trying to determine the twister’s duration and the damage it caused.

‘I’m on a 2-mile stretch that this thing is on the ground and I haven’t even gotten to the end of it yet,’ he said, walking the path of destruction near the Johnson-Nemaha county line. He didn’t immediately know of any injuries.

At least 10 tornadoes were reported in Kansas, mostly in rural parts of the western and central sections of the state.The county where Wichita is located was declared a state of disaster and said preliminary estimates suggest damages could be as high as $283 million.

Kristin Dean, among the Wichita mobile home residents sheltering from the storm, said she was shaking as she was being pushed from home in her wheelchair. She was able to grab a bag of her possessions before going into the shelter and that was all she had left. She lost her mobile home, and the windows in her car shattered.

‘It got still,’ the 37-year-old woman, who’s in a wheelchair after hurting her leg a month ago, recalled of the scene inside the shelter. ‘Then we heard a wham, things flying. Everybody screamed, huddling together. It is devastating, but you know we are alive.’

Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said Rice County said several buildings in Rice County were damaged, including one housing the sheriff’s department and jail. Inmates were transferred because of the damage. She also said homes were damaged or destroyed in several other counties.

In Creston, about 75 miles from Des Moines, the Greater Regional Medical Center suffered roof damage and had some of its windows blown out by a storm, said John Benson, a spokesman for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Patients were being moved to a hospital in Osceola, about 30 miles away. No injuries were reported.

Strong storms knocked out power in Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Sioux City. The National Weather Service in Des Moines also received reports of high winds that toppled at least five semis on Interstate 29.

In southeast Nebraska, an apparent tornado took down barns, large trees, and some small rural structures.

In northeast Nebraska, Boone County Sheriff David Spiegel said baseball-sized hail had damaged vehicles, shattered windows and tore siding from houses in and around Petersburg, about 140 miles northwest of Omaha. Johnson County emergency director Clint Strayhorn said he was still trying to determine how long the twister was on the ground and how much damage it did.

‘I’m on a 2-mile stretch that this thing is on the ground and I haven’t even gotten to the end of it yet,’ he said Saturday afternoon as he walked the path of destruction near the Johnson-Nemaha county line. He didn’t immediately know of any injuries.

Two possible tornadoes were reported father south in Nebraska near the Kansas border, and as many as 10 others were reported in largely rural parts of western and central Kansas, including one north of Dodge City that was said to be on the ground for a half-hour, weather officials said.

Wild weather: A weather forecast for Saturday issued at 4:41pm EDT by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows severe weather conditions stretching across the U.S.

In Salina, Kansas, tornado sirens sounded after a possible tornado was spotted nearby. National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Scott also said tornadoes were reported in the central and western Kansas counties of Pratt, Stafford, Rush and Hodgeman.

There were reports of a home damaged in Rush County and an old schoolhouse damaged in Hodgeman County.

Tornado threats caused some weekend festivities to be called off. The threat prompted University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic officials to cancel the annual spring football game minutes before Saturday’s kick-off.

The McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, relocated 16 aerial refueling tankers to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota because of the risk of hail from the storms. And four air refueling aircraft from Forbes Field in Topeka were flown to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and three other aircraft were moved into hangars to protect them from the potential for large hail in the Shawnee County area.

Forecasters warned that even once the danger Saturday night passed, the threat from the storm system wasn’t over. Severe weather was also possible for a significant band of the center of the country on Sunday.

‘The threat isn’t over with tonight, unfortunately. Severe weather is possible again tomorrow from east Texas and Arkansas and up into the Great Lakes,’ said Bill Bunting, chief of operations at the Storm Prediction Center, which is part of the National Weather Service.

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