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

Region hit less than two weeks after deadly tornado strike in Moore, Okla.

June 1, 2013, 12:41 AM

June 1, 2013 — -- 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.

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"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 thetornado 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.

"The phrase 'Oklahoma strong' is more than just words, it is something that is shown," said Maj. Thomas Louden, commander for The Salvation Army in a press conference. "We will see the strength of this state, particularly the community, for what we can be as a people."

"This may not have been the May 3 [1999] tornado, but if you lost a loved one or lost a house, it was your equivalent of the May 3 tornado," Carson said during the press conference, referring to the 1999 tornado in Moore, Okla., that raged through the suburb at more than 300 miles per hour and and killed 36 people.

The NWS initially estimated that five tornadoes touched down in the Oklahoma City area Friday.

The Red Cross opened shelters for those in need at Christ's Church in Yukon, Okla., and Redlands Community College in El Reno, Okla. In addition, the St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, which opened on May 20 after a powerful tornado hit Moore, would remain open for storm victims.

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The massive E-5 tornado that ripped through Moore 11 days ago killed 24 people, smashing schools and hospitals, and flattening neighborhoods.

Road Congested During Storm

Randolph said the area roads were still extremely congested early today, particularly I-40 and I-35.

"Several spots are impassable whether it's high water or power lines that are down," she said. "We've had multiple crashes, some of which are probably going to be there for a while as we're unable to get wreckers to clear the roadway."

She added that troopers were being told to push vehicles off I-40 to clear the roadway.

Local hospitals reported receiving at least 89 patients, four critical, with three fatalities among them.

Integris Health Southwest, which had three hospitals in the area, reported most of the patients, including the two dead -- the mother and baby from I-40. One of its hospitals also had a baby in critical condition.

Mercy Hospital in El Reno reported receiving 13 patients, one dead on arrival and two in critical condition.

Oklahoma University Medical Center, the only level 1 trauma center in the state, reported two adult patients whose conditions were unclear. OU also runs The Children's Hospital, where there were six pediatric patients, two transferred from Integris.

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Gov. Mary Fallin told ABC News Friday evening that there were power outages, flooding and flipped trucks on interstates amid apparent tornados.

"We're real concerned about the people that are on the highways," Fallin said, noting the worst of the storm hit during the evening rush hour.

"It hit during a time when people were getting off work," Fallin said. "They knew the storms where coming in, so people were going home."

Moore City Manager Steve Eddy, driving around Moore after the latest storm, told ABC News Friday evening that he saw minor flooding and power outages, but no immediate evidence of tornado activity.

There were about 125,000 power outages reported statewide with 95,618 just in the Oklahoma City metro area.

Flash flooding remains the biggest weather threat today as the National Weather Service issued flash flooding warnings for central and eastern Oklahoma.

ABC News' Bonnie McLean, Dan Childs, Erin Koehane, Michael Kreisel and Wendy Fisher contributed to this report.

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