Residents of the Southern Plains are cleaning up today after a series of tornadoes ripped through the region Monday night.
The violent weather tore through Oklahoma and Kansas around dinner time, killing five people and injuring dozens more, leaving flattened buildings and downed power lines in its wake.
Experts say the string of tornadoes, one with rotating winds estimated at 150 miles per hour, may have been part of a "supercell" storm that ran 150 miles across the state, dumping hail as big as baseballs, destroying mobile homes and leaving thousands of people without power. There are few working generators in the area and officials have asked residents to start conserving water.
Family Takes Shelter in Laundry Room
In Oklahoma, the state hit hardest by the storms, residents sought shelter anywhere they could. In the city of Norman, Tim Tegeler and his family took shelter in their laundry room until the storms passed.
"We saw it coming," Tegeler said. "The best thing is my family's fine."
Others who weren't home at the time rode out the storm wherever they could. More than 70 people huddled in the back of a Love's Country Store as the storm hit.
"It was really scary," said Love's employee Charlescie Greenway. "The wind was like, trying to pull the door off the latch."
The storm hit during rush hour, just as interstates 35 and 40 were jammed with commuters. Aaron Rowley said he tried to outdrive the storm. When that didn't work, he was forced to pull over and run inside for cover.
"By the time I got in, the roof just started collapsing down on us," Rowley said.
Sammie Ward was also on the road at the time. He wasn't able to make it inside, so he rode out the storm in the back of his truck.
"All of a sudden the wind hit, and it just went dark," Ward said.
He spent today counting his blessings. "Very lucky..." he said, choking back tears.
Oklahoma Declares State of Emergency in 56 Counties Following Tornadoes
From the air, the destruction in Oklahoma was clear. Splinters of wood stood where people once had homes. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and other state officials toured the state today, assessing the damage. Henry declared a state of emergency in 56 counties after touring devastated communities.
In Kansas, the most serious damage was reported in the city of Belmont, east of Topeka. There were widespread power outages, but no injuries were reported.
In nearby Alfalfa County, Sheriff Charlie Tucker said baseball-sized hail broke the windshields of cars and damaged homes.
"I came home once to look at my own personal vehicle, and the windshield was all bashed out," Tucker said. "The grandchildren's swing set was up and now it's gone."
More thunderstorms are expected throughout the region today, but meteorologists don't expect those storms to mirror the destruction from Monday.