More Storms, Tornadoes Batter Parts Of Oklahoma

Still recovering from the devastating tornado two weeks ago, parts of Okalahoma were struck again with intense storms and tornadoes Friday night. Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with Kurt Gwartney of member station KGOU about the lastest there.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


SIMON: Tornadoes hit Oklahoma City last night. Five people are reported to have died, including a mother and her child. Nearly 90 people are being treated for injuries. The twister touched down in Oklahoma City and in nearby Moore and triggered flash floods and power outages. And, of course, we remember that Oklahomans are still recovering from tornadoes that hit a few weeks ago. Kurt Gwartney is the news director at our member station KGOU in Oklahoma City. He joins us now. Kurt, thanks so much for making time for us on a very busy morning.

KURT GWARTNEY: You're welcome.

SIMON: What's the latest news you can give us?

GWARTNEY: The latest news is that our emergency management officials and workers will be going out as daylight comes to see what they could not see last night because, first of all, this tornado was difficult to see in that it was what we call rain-wrapped. So, even experienced storm chasers found themselves in harm's way. But then we had significant flooding throughout the night and continuing even some this morning. But they'll be out looking to really get their first true assessment of what happened last night.

SIMON: Why were so many people apparently struck in their vehicles or take to their vehicles when the tornado warning sounded? The governor mentioned this was a real problem.

GWARTNEY: It was a real problem. And you would think that Oklahomans would know better, to be perfectly honest because one of the least safe places to be during a storm and during torrential rain and flooding was in a vehicle. You only had to look at the pictures from Moore from last week to see all the cars that were tossed about like Hot Wheels stacked up on each other to really get that picture that being in a car during any kind of severe storm is a bad place to be. But we had information from the National Weather Service this storm was coming for several days in advance.

SIMON: Where were you when it struck, Kurt?

GWARTNEY: I was at my home. We live on the third floor in a condominium in downtown Oklahoma City. And we took our tornado precautions, moving down into the stairwell lower level with several neighbors, two dogs and a cat. It was a bit of a tight fit, but considering the way the storm looked and the direction it was headed, we went early and stayed down there for a while.

SIMON: Yeah. What happened nearby?

GWARTNEY: Well, nearby, we had flooding was the most significant problem we had here. And one our neighbor's patios turned basically into a swimming pool and the water was pouring into her home. And we took the wet-vac up and towels and other neighbors brought mops and we all pitched in to get her at least toward the stages of recovery. Of course, that will continue. And the emergency officials in Oklahoma City reported they had as much as eight, 10, even 12 inches of rain in just, you know, four hours or so last night.

SIMON: What are the recovery efforts like today, Kurt?

GWARTNEY: Canadian County, just to the west of Oklahoma City, looks like it was the hardest hit by the actual tornado. Now, the flooding seems to have been worse in the metro Oklahoma City area. The response will depend on what we see. Now, of course, we also still have all those people in, you know, the Shawnee area and Moore, Oklahoma, of course, and in Carney that were hit by storms May 19th and 20th. That recovery is going to be even more of a mess now too because of what happened last night.

SIMON: Well, the sad fact is Oklahomans know how to do this, don't they?

GWARTNEY: Yeah, it's a good and a bad problem. As we say around here, not our first rodeo. So we are very good at picking up the pieces. The discussion that's ongoing, especially since the tornado that hit Moore about, you know, what can we do to be better on the front end of this? One of the things about Oklahomans is that we tend to be fairly independent, so those type of discussions frequently don't lead to change, to be perfectly honest. And, in this situation last night of course, it was more about vehicles being on the roads. And we had warning, we had information, but people were still caught out.

SIMON: Kurt Gwartney is the news direction of our member station KGOU in Oklahoma City. Kurt, thank you, and good luck to all of you there.

GWARTNEY: Thank you, Scott.

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