In Oklahoma, already devastated by a deadly tornado in Moore and Oklahoma City, twisters once again descended on Friday night, killing at least nine people—including two children—and injuring at least 71 others.
It was just two weeks ago that a massive tornado destroyed Moore and the town was once again under threat.
“There’s just no rest,” said Kristy Yager, spokeswoman for Oklahoma City
Seventeen tornadoes were reported in the Midwest, though the number could change after officials conduct storm surveys, said Kurt Van Speybroeck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“There’s damage everywhere,” Moore’s Mayor Glenn Lewis told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, saying the townspeople had just started clearing out the debris from the storm that killed 24 earlier in the month.
Because of the new floods, the mayor said it was hard for him to drive through the town to search for new ruins among the old ones.
“I can’t even get home to see if my house is OK,” he said.
Many people ignored official warnings to avoid driving. The tornadoes were not as strong as the EF-5 twister that killed 24 people on May 20, but fear drove some people into their cars to flee.
Parts of interstates 35 and 40 near Oklahoma City were described as “a parking lot.”
“People were actually driving southbound in the northbound lanes to try and get out of the way,” storm chaser Dave Holder told CNN.
“We knew well in advance these storms were going to be quite dangerous,” J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society and director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia, told CNN. “The weather service was crystal clear — to stay off the roads after 4 p.m. yesterday.”
He said central Oklahoma “is right in the sweet spot for tornadoes around May 20 through the end of May.”
David Stottlemyre of Oklahoma told CNN he was inside an oil field repair shop in El Reno when he saw a tornado “looking at us dead in the eye.”
He said he and two coworkers stayed inside the building as it took a direct hit. The roof collapsed and the structure blew apart, but they survived unscathed. “We’re all pretty shook up,” the oil field mechanic told CNN. “Surreal — really no other way to explain it.”
Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West said at least seven of the nine deaths occurred while the victims were inside vehicles.
More than 210,000 customers are without power in the Midwest today, including 89,000 in Missouri, 86,000 in Oklahoma, 31,000 in Illinois and 3,000 in Arkansas.
At Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport, the storm yanked off part of the terminal roof — where at least 1,500 area residents had gone for shelter in a tunnel.
Even Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes got a scare, receiving minor injuries when the “tornado hunt” car in which he was riding in Oklahoma was thrown at least 200 yards by a twister.
Heavy rains drenched Oklahoma City — eight to 11 inches, Yager said.
She said an inch of water flooded the first floor of City Hall, and apartments in low-lying areas of town were hit harder.
“We’ve seen widespread flooding throughout the entire 621 square miles,” she said.
“We saw flooding in areas that we don’t (normally) see flooding,” said Police Lt. Jay Barnett. “We were overwhelmed.”