May 8, 2003
Posted at: 8:32 p.m. CDT
OKLAHOMA CITY - A tornado swept through Oklahoma City on Thursday, flattening dozens of homes and scattering cars and mobile homes across the landscape. At least 96 people were injured, a dozen critically.
The twister struck just as the afternoon rush hour was beginning, ripping roofs off homes and businesses and heavily damaging a General Motors plant. There were reports of damage at nearby Tinker Air Force Base.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities.
Paul O'Leary, spokesman for the city's ambulance service, said hospitals reported 96 injuries and "the numbers are climbing." At least a dozen people were in critical condition, he said.
Truck driver David Waller was on Interstate 40 when he saw the tornado coming his way. He parked his 18-wheeler and ran for a clump of bushes. He and two other men clung to a tree as the tornado passed by.
"I'm scared to death," said Waller, who was shaking, his clothes covered with mud. His semi was picked up by the tornado and dropped on its side.
The sky was filled with litter as the tornado passed.
"All I saw was a bunch of trash," Waller said.
Tornado sirens sounded just before 5 p.m. and the twister touched down in suburban Moore 15 minutes later. Shrouded by rain, it moved over Interstate 35 and a mall before moving to the northeast and into two more suburbs, Midwest City and Del City.
"You could see birds and all kinds of stuff flying around in it," said Jennifer Leger, an employee at a Subway sandwich shop. "We closed. We had the lights off and were just letting in people who were caught outside."
At a steakhouse in Moore, an employee who answered the phone said customers and employees took shelter in the walk-in freezer. She hung up without giving her name.
East of Oklahoma City, I-40 was littered with boards, trees, twisted metal and insulation. Authorities closed parts of I-240 after heavy wind damaged nearby industrial buildings, a mobile home sales lots, a bank and a fast-food restaurant.
Some 37,000 customers in the area were without power, Oklahoma Gas and Electric said.
The storm was an eerie reminder of May 3, 1999, when 44 people were killed by tornadoes that hit the state, including parts of Oklahoma City.
Since Sunday, tornado-packed storms have killed at least 42 people — 18 in Missouri, 15 in Tennessee, seven in Kansas and two in Illinois. Officials have estimated damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Bush declared disaster areas in 20 Tennessee counties Thursday, clearing the way for federal emergency assistance. On Tuesday, Bush did the same for parts of Kansas and Missouri.