Oklahoma Twisters' Deadly Lesson: You Can't Run, So Hide

PHOTO: An overturned semitrailer rests on its side on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 40, just east of El Reno, Okla., after a reported tornado touched down, Friday, May 31, 2013.
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Like thousands of people when they heard that tornadoes were headed their way, Beverly Allam jumped in her car thinking she could get out of the horrific storm's path.

The lesson she learned when she found herself caught in the gridlock that gripped Interstate 40 and other central Oklahoma highways when the storm hit Friday evening is a message that the National Weather Service and state and local officials tried to drill home today, as people in the tornadoes' path started to try to pick up their lives.

"It was really chaos that we didn't plan on encountering," Allam said. "Left too late. We weren't expecting this mass exodus of people coming out. Gridlock. There was nowhere to go. We had to inch along."

And what was worse, as she found herself stuck in traffic, the storm took a turn and headed her way.

PHOTOS: Twisters Hit OKC Area Again

"When you are seeing this thing coming up behind you and you're gridlocked and you originally thought you'd have time to outrun it, going forward, when it's really approaching you faster than you can get away from it, then you start to get a little frightened," Allam said.

"It's just raining, becoming torrential rain, and headlight to headlight to headlight, it's just bumper to bumper as far as you can see, miles ahead and miles in back," she said.

The NWS warned people to get off the roads and find someplace secure, but Allam and others said they were torn by conflicting messages. Some local media even urged people to get in their cars and flee south.

"I think the reason for this is because May 20 [when an EF-5 tornado ripped through the same area] is still as I said very much in our hearts and minds," she said. "Too much too soon -- paranoia, expecting same devastation."

But it was that fear that led to the gridlock, and proved deadly. Officials said today that at least seven of the nine people killed by the storm were in their cars, including a mother and her baby.

"They were traveling on the interstate and their car was sucked up into the tornado and they were sucked out of their car," Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said.

She said the mother and her baby were possibly sucked out of their car near Interstate 40.

"We know that the storm picked them up and swept them away," Randolph said. "When the troopers found them, they were both deceased.

"I cannot stress to you just how important it is that if people don't have to be out, that they stay inside and seek shelter," Randolph said. "There's just no safe place to be except underground when a tornado is present."

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said people "should have known better."

The twisters and heavy rains that swept through the area Friday evening flipped cars and trucks on interstate highways and swept up vehicles in deep flood waters.

The National Weather Service confirmed today that at least five tornadoes touched down Friday around Oklahoma City. The strongest of the tornadoes registered as an EF-3 south of El Reno.

Emergency crews spent the day starting to repair the flood-damaged roads and bridges, and began clearing trees and other debris from roadways to make it easier for first responders to get to the areas hit by the tornadoes, Canadian County Commissioner Phil Carson said.

"We haven't had a chance yet for our team to take a look at the damage out there because the flood waters are still keeping us out of the area," Keli Cain with Oklahoma Emergency Management told ABC News Radio.

Officials praised the collaborative efforts of emergency responders and law enforcement, as well as the tremendous support from community members who this morning were already assisting those in communities hit by the storm.

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