At least 2 dead after suspected tornado destroys Oklahoma motel
'We have absolutely experienced a traumatic event,' says mayor of El Reno
A suspected tornado has left at least two people dead after it flattened a motel and caused widespread damage to a mobile home park in the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno late Saturday.
El Reno Mayor Matt White said during a news conference Sunday that "there have been two fatalities at this point in time." He said officials are working to notify relatives.
Meteorologist Rick Smith in Norman said the powerful storm system rolled through the state on Saturday night. Crews were arriving on the scene Sunday to determine the severity of the damage to the town just west of Oklahoma City.
The American Budget Value Inn was destroyed. Images at the scene showed emergency crews sifting through the rubble after part of the motel's second story collapsed into a pile of debris strewn about the first floor and parking lot.
Elsewhere, overturned cars and twisted metal could be seen briefly as intermittent lightning flashed across the sky and the wailing sirens of approaching emergency vehicles could be heard in the distance.
Trailers at a mobile home park adjacent to the motel were also damaged, as was part of a nearby car dealership.
"We have absolutely experienced a traumatic event," El Reno Mayor Matt White said during a news conference early Sunday. "We've had an incident where a tornado has basically hit a mobile home park and a hotel, and some other local businesses."
White said several people were transported to hospitals in Oklahoma City, but did not give an exact number.
"We're doing a search and rescue right now... we have all hands on deck," he said.
Tweety Garrison, 63, told The Associated Press early Sunday that she was inside her mobile home — along with her husband, two young grandchildren and a family friend — when the storm hit. Garrison said when she heard the storm coming she immediately hit the ground. Moments later, she said, she heard the mobile home next door slam into hers, before it flipped over and landed on her roof.
Garrison said the incident lasted five to 10 minutes. She said there was a tornado warning on her phone but the sirens did not go off until after tornado hit.
Garrison's 32-year-old son, Elton, said he'd heard the wailing tornado sirens and had just laid down at home about eight kilometres away when his phone rang. He recognized his mother's number, but there was no voice on the other end when he answered. "I thought, `That's weird,"' Elton Garrison said.
Then his mother called back, and delivered a chilling message: "We're trapped."
Elton said when he arrived at his parent's home, he found it blocked by debris and sitting with another trailer on top of it. He immediately began clearing a path to the home so that he could eventually lift a portion of an outside wall just enough so that all five occupants could slip beneath it and escape.
"My parents were in there and two of my kids, one 9 and the other 12 ... my main emotion was fear," Garrison said, who has lived in El Reno for about 26 years. "I couldn't get them out of there quick enough."
Garrison said he was not alarmed by the warning sirens when he first heard them at home. "We hear them all the time here, so it didn't seem like a big deal ... I heard a lot of rain with the wind. But when it kinda got calm all of a sudden, that's when it didn't feel right."
Garrison, whose sport utility vehicle remained at the mobile park early Sunday because the area had since been cordoned off by authorities, said his parents had only recently recovered after losing their previous home to a fire a few years ago.
"Now this," he said, before expressing gratitude that everyone inside his parents' home had emerged without serious injury.
In the next breath, Garrison added: "Items can be replaced. Lives can't."
With files from Reuters