EL RENO, Okla. — As the East Coast braced for the possibility of severe storms Sunday, the all-too-familiar task of cleaning up went on in Oklahoma after the weekend’s violent weather claimed 10 lives there.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin toured damage in El Reno, about 30 miles from Oklahoma City, on Sunday. She said in an interview that the death toll could rise as emergency workers continue searching flooded areas for missing residents.
The state Medical Examiner’s Office spokeswoman Amy Elliott said the death toll had risen to 10 from Friday’s EF3 tornado, which charged down a clogged Interstate 40 in the western suburbs. Among the dead were two children — an infant sucked out of the car with its mother and a 4-year-old boy who along with his family had sought shelter in a drainage ditch.
Three veteran storm chasers also died in Friday’s storm: Tim Samaras; his son, Paul Samaras; and Carl Young. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the men were involved in tornado research.
The center predicted a slight chance of severe weather in the Northeast on Sunday, mainly from the Washington, D.C., area to northern Maine. Hail and high winds were the chief threat, though a tornado could not be ruled out, forecasters said.
In in the southern part of the United States, thunderstorms, high winds and hail were expected as part of a slow-moving cold front. Heavy rains could spawn flash flooding in some areas, the National Weather Service said.
Oklahoma wasn’t the only state hit by violent weather Friday night. In Missouri, areas west of St. Louis received significant damage from an EF3 tornado Friday night that packed estimated winds of 150 mph. In St. Charles County, at least 71 homes were heavily damaged and 100 had slight to moderate damage, county spokeswoman Colene McEntee said.
Northeast of St. Louis, the town of Roxana, Ill., also saw damage from an EF3 tornado. National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said it wasn’t clear whether the damage in Missouri and Illinois came from the same EF3 twister or separate ones.
A total of five tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City metro area on Friday, the National Weather Service said. Fallin said Sunday that 115 people were injured.
It formed out on the prairie west of Oklahoma City, giving residents plenty of advance notice. When told to seek shelter, many ventured out and snarled traffic across the metro area — perhaps remembering the devastation in Moore. An EF5 tornado on May 20 killed 24 people.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said roadways quickly became congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents.
"They had no place to go, and that’s always a bad thing. They were essentially targets just waiting for a tornado to touch down," Randolph said. "I’m not sure why people do that sort of stuff, but it is very dangerous."
Terri Black, a 51-year-old teacher’s assistant in Moore, said she decided to try and outrun the tornado when she learned her southwest Oklahoma City home was in harm’s way. She quickly regretted it.
"It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives," she said.
When she realized she was a sitting duck, Black turned around and found herself directly in the path of the most violent part of the storm.
"My car was actually lifted off the road and then set back down," Black said.
Fallin again spoke to the resiliency of the Oklahoma communities that were affected.
"The whole key to this is communication between state, federal and local officials," she said. "It’s going well — first responders, law enforcement, emergency managers. We’ll rebuild (and) come back even stronger."
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy.
Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.
Sean Murphy/The Associated Press