CHICAGO, April 15, 2012 (AFP) - Residents picking through their damaged homes braced for more tornadoes across the US Midwest Sunday after dozens touched down in the region, killing five people in Oklahoma. By early Sunday, over 100 tornadoes were reported in the region, and the National Weather Service warned that "severe storms" were possible in a huge swathe of the country, from Texas to Wisconsin.
"Severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes" were expected later over parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley. Oklahoma bore the brunt of the storm, with three children and two adults killed in the northwest Oklahoma town of Woodward, according to The Oklahoman. Dozens more were also injured. "It's really a devastating thing to our city," Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill told reporters. "I think the main thing is all you can do is pray for us." Gale-force winds and hail the size of golf balls leveled buildings, blew roofs off homes, uprooted trees and toppled power lines, leaving mounds of debris. Woodward County Emergency Manager Matt Lehenbauer told local media that at least 89 homes and 13 businesses were destroyed in the area. Classes were canceled for Monday due to the storm damage, but all schools were due to be reopened Tuesday. "We still have so many families without electricity, and a lot of the roads aren't open for our routes," Woodward Public Schools Superintendent Tim Merchant told The Oklahoman.
A tornado leveled most of the tiny town of Thurman, Iowa, where authorities evacuated the town's population of about 300 people. Many Thurman residents took up temporary shelter at a high school in nearby Tabor, CNN reported. The damage was estimated to be as much as $283 million in the Wichita, Kansas area, The Kansas City Star said, citing a preliminary assessment by city and county officials. "Things were flying and everyone screamed," Kristin Dean told the newspaper after heavy damage at the Pinaire Mobile Home Park where she lives. "We all kind of huddled together." But the storms made few victims thanks to early warnings from meteorological services that urged people to take precautions well in advance. It was just the second time in US history that the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center issued a high-risk warning more than 24 hours in advance.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency state and federal officials were evaluating the damage as the agency collaborated with state and local officials impacted by the deadly tornadoes and severe storms. American Red Cross workers were operating shelters and providing meals, as well as relief and cleanup supplies such as comfort kits, tarps, coolers and rakes. "Our thoughts are with everyone affected by these tornadoes," Red Cross Disaster Services senior vice president Charley Shimanski said in a statement. "Red Cross chapters are already offering folks food and a safe place to stay and more workers and equipment are being sent it to help people who were in the path of these storms."