The Norman Transcript

May 20, 2013

Tornado tears through county

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A spring storm packing a single tornado ripped across far eastern Cleveland County on Sunday evening, carrying hail, strong winds and injuring at least six persons, with three in critical condition.

Officials report there were no confirmed fatalities in Cleveland County related to Sunday’s storm.

Six patients were transported to Norman Regional Hospital. Five patients were transported by EMSStat, and one was transported by a park ranger from the east Norman/Little Axe/Newalla area, NRHS media relations coordinator Kelly Wells and Norman Fire Deputy Chief Jim Bailey said.

Wells said some patients were injured from flying debris, some were trapped under homes and others were sucked out of their homes. More patients were expected to arrive overnight as Norman Regional paramedics continued to search the area for survivors.

Bailey said emergency crews will continue to search throughout the night with the main focus on the east side of the lake where most of the damage occurred.

Sheriff’s officials reported that much of the damage in Cleveland County was along Indian Hills Road between 168th Avenue Northeast and 192nd Avenue Northeast.

Road closings, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Meghan McCormick said, included Indians Hills Road and 168th; Franklin Road and 192nd; 149th and Harrah Road; Harrah and Rolling Oak; and 192nd to 149th Street.

Several people lost their homes on 156th Avenue Northeast and East Franklin Road.

“I saw the tail of the storm coming toward me, so I drove to the casino,” resident Kenneth Lastinger said.

The only thing left standing was his porch. As he sorted through debris in his yard, he said was glad his dog was able to weather the storm.

“He made it through in the demolished, blown-away house,” he said. “Praise the Lord.”

A friend helping Lastinger said the dog was hiding behind a hill when they found him. Pages of the Bible were scattered all across the property from Bibles Lastinger collected, he said.

As for Sunday night, Lastinger said he had a friend bringing him a tent and a generator to keep out on the property for as long as it’s needed.

“It happens. It’s never happened to me, but now it has,” he said.

His neighbor’s home also was hit. Bobby Wilkinson and daughter, Jessica, were assessing damage and salvaging what they could Sunday evening with help from family and friends. The family sought shelter at Country Boy grocery store minutes before the tornado tore their home up.

“We looked to see what direction it was coming and we went the opposite direction to the grocery store, where it hit a few years ago,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson picked up his mother-in-law, Ruth Price, from her home on Indian Hills Road before they sought shelter.

“We don’t even know if I have a truck anymore or if my mom’s house is still there,” Wilkinson said.

The family couldn’t get to Price’s home because of all the roads closed in the area.

Wilkinson and his family have lived in the area for about 25 years and have seen some tornado damage before but nothing like what happened Sunday night. That’s not going to scare them from the area, though.

“We’re going to rebuild, start over,” he said. “The worse thing is getting it all cleaned up and we need to get a place for storage.”

Another family living near Franklin Road heard a little bit of the storm pass over while they were in their storm shelter.

“We could see debris flying in the air and my husband said he could kind of hear a train sound,” resident Tracey Coon said. “But we’re all safe and sound.”

The initial rotation lowered on Alameda Street between 36th Avenue and 48th Avenue before it touched down on the northeast side of Lake Thunderbird, just north of Little Axe, according to scanner reports. Television footage shot from a helicopter showed what appeared to be a tornado crossing over Lake Thunderbird before heading northeast.

The storm continued to 192nd Street toward Pink, Stella and Bethel Acres, northeast of Lake Thunderbird. Tornado sirens sounded at least four times in Norman and residents were advised to seek shelter.

According to OG&E’s website, 1,549 customers in Norman were without power. Oklahoma Electric Cooperative customers also were without power Sunday night. OEC spokesperson Patti Rogers said two substations were down in Pink, one at 120th Avenue Northeast and a second at 149th Avenue.

Rogers said 3,800 customers were without power Sunday evening. Power to most of the customers in the Pink area has been restored, and the Franklin Road substation was still out.

“Nine or 10 poles are down and more are leaning. We will have to be replace those,” Rogers said.

Crews were headed to the area and Rogers was hopeful that power would be restored soon.

Cleveland County sheriff’s officials established a command post for tornado damage in a church parking lot at 192nd Avenue Northeast and Pecan Valley Road.

Deputies and Norman police officers believe most of the damage in Cleveland County is along Indian Hills Road between 168th Avenue Northeast and 192nd Avenue Northeast. Deputies were going door to door checking houses late Sunday.

The American Red Cross is in the process of establishing a shelter in Little Axe, said Ken Garcia with the American Red Cross Heart of Oklahoma Chapter. The Red Cross is working to provide mass care, water, sports drinks, snacks and meals as necessary alongside the Salvation Army in Little Axe.

The Red Cross is not currently providing services in other areas in Cleveland County.

Staff writers Hannah Cruz and Joy Hampton and City Editor Shana Adkisson contributed to this report.