States Hit By Tornadoes Take Stock Of Damage

After another wave of deadly tornadoes across the South and Midwest, people in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri are taking stock of the damage.

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Tornado sirens roared again today across parts of Kansas and Missouri. It's the third day storms have ravaged the Midwest, killing at least 137 people so far. Yesterday, Oklahoma took the brunt of the massive tornadoes. Oklahoma City was largely spared but several nearby bedroom communities were not so lucky.

And today, the state's governor got a first-hand look at the destruction, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Governor Mary Fallin toured several areas damaged by the storms, first by air and then on the ground.

Governor MARY FALLIN (Republican, Oklahoma): I've never seen so many storms come through our state at one time. What really struck me was how the tornado was so big, certainly, and wide, but how much it took up the grass and the dirt on the ground. You're used to seeing homes and debris and lots of wood and cars overturned, that kind of thing, but to see the actual ground being sucked up was pretty remarkable.

CORLEY: One of the communities that Governor Fallin toured today was Chickasha, Oklahoma, southwest of Oklahoma City. About 16,000 people live here, and many were sifting through debris and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. Governor Fallin stopped first at a damaged department complex where she spoke with Sarah Hartzell, who was trying to salvage what she could.

Gov. FALLIN: You left when you heard the storm was coming?

Ms. SARAH HARTZELL: Yup.

Gov. FALLIN: Did you see your place?

Ms. HARTZELL: Yup.

Gov. FALLIN: Did you lose everything, or you've been able to find some things?

Ms. HARTZELL: Kind of bunch of stuff. All the furniture was gone.

CORLEY: The tornado swept through Chickasha at about 5 o'clock last night with heavy rain, lashing wind and hail.

Unidentified Woman #1: Because we have a whole box of sandwiches already made up.

Unidentified Woman #2: And then we'll just go wherever we need to...

Unidentified Woman #1: OK.

Unidentified Woman #2: ...as the time comes.

CORLEY: In the parking lot of a shopping mall, The Salvation Army was getting ready to pass out sandwiches. Lieutenant James Biddix says a tornado hasn't struck Chickasha for more than a decade, and people perhaps were a bit complacent.

Lieutenant JAMES BIDDIX (Corps Officer, The Salvation Army): A lot of people took cover, but a lot of people were outside. I was outside. I live on the other side of town, and I was outside and was able to watch it formed. And I thought it was further north than this or further south than this, actually, and I thought it wouldn't hit much. I didn't realize it was this close.

CORLEY: A smashed sign at the gasoline station, broken windows and demolished buildings along a commercial strip near the city's main road show how close the tornado came. And at Watson's trailer park, Dianna Parham watched her 11-year-old son. He's a state archery champion and was looking for his trophies in a pile full of debris. Parham says the family hasn't yet found her daughter's dog. They've bought their three-bedroom trailer and moved in just last August.

Ms. DIANNA PARHAM: Big enough for us. It was big enough, and it was, you know, what we liked, and we were trying to fix our yard up and, you know, make it flowers. My husband loves to do yard work and let's have the flowers and the color.

CORLEY: Her husband, Roger, says the family will just have to start over and salvage what they can.

Mr. ROGER PARHAM: I feel for the lady across the road more than I do more about myself. She lost her daughter so - and I don't know, you know, so I feel for them more than I feel for myself. I got my family. That's all that matters to me.

CORLEY: Parham says the owners say they'll put storm cellars on the property. Oklahoma's emergency management director, Albert Ashwood, says Chickasha was prepared as best could be for this storm.

Mr. ALBERT ASHWOOD (Management Director, Department of Emergency Management): So anything we could do to build the base and help them build their programs benefits all of us.

CORLEY: The governor, in the meantime, says all in her state should continue to take precautions because the tornado season is far from over.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chickasha, Oklahoma.

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