Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

April 15, 2012

5 killed in Woodward, Okla., tornado


CNHI News Service

WOODWARD, Okla. — A tornado struck this small northwest Oklahoma community early Sunday, killing at least five people, injuring several others and causing extensive damage.

The twister, part of a widespread severe storm system that swept through the Midwest, touched down on the west side of town at 12:18 a.m. with only three minutes warning.

Two of the victims were identified by local authorities as children living at the destroyed Hideaway Trailer Park in this town of 12,000.

One person died at Woodward Regional Hospital.

Hospital officials said at least 30 people were treated for injuries. City Manager Alan Riffell said "about half of those are critical."

Mayor Roscoe Hill said the tornado took "us by surprise. It's kind of overwhelming."

Sixty-five years ago, one of the deadliest twisters in the nation's history struck this town, killing 116 people and leveling more than 100 square blocks.

Officials said residents had little warning late Saturday and early Sunday of the latest tornado because the storm downed power lines and disabled the town's siren system. A backup power generator was activated just before the tornado struck.

"The warning was issued at 12:16 a.m. and the tornado hit the town at 12:19 a.m.," said Riffel. "We had no time to issue a warning with any other type of system."

Riffel said fire and rescue crews scrambled immediately after the tornado touched down to help people from their damaged homes.

"We did take a direct hit, the northwest part of town received the most damage," said Riffel. "It stayed on the ground for a great distance."

Riffel added that the tornado was "limited in scope and path, but it was destructive in the areas that it hit. A number of homes were destroyed or damaged, but the mobile home park suffered the biggest brunt of the damage."

Meritt Harlow, circulation director for the Woodward News, said he witnessed the tornado from his father's home.

"We were watching it, it happened so quick," said Harlow. "I got my niece, who is in a wheelchair, in the cellar, then went back to see exactly what it was going to do. When I stepped out on the front porch I could see it was there. I got in the cellar and rode it out."

More than 2,500 homes were without power as a result of downed utility lines. In addition to the trailer park, several homes, a movie theater and the Mututal of Omaha building in the tornado's path were destroyed or badly damaged, officials said.

The downtown area was spared.

Marty Logan, a retired firefighter who works as a storm spotter for an Oklahoma City television station, said he knew the tornado was headed toward Woodward "but I just didn't have a visual on it."

Then, he added, "all of a sudden, there it was."

Logan said he saw a utility tower get hit, followed by a power line flash and lightening.

He said he he followed the storm into Woodward, and warned people of its path.

"Hopefully," said Logan, "we got some lives saved."

The American Red Cross set up a shelter at a local church, and at least a dozen people were staying there. The Salvation Army also provided assistance.

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Details for this story were provided by the Woodward, Okla., News.