TUSHKA, Okla. (AP) — A large tornado ripped through a tiny southeastern Oklahoma town late Thursday, killing at least two people and leaving more than two dozen others injured, authorities said.
The state Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed two fatalities in the town of Tushka, about 120 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said.
It was not yet clear how much damage the storm did in the town of 350 people, but several people said their homes were no longer habitable and officials said Tushka’s only school was among the buildings that were hit. Efforts to assess the damage were hampered because the tornado struck after dark. Also, downed power lines and trees had made road travel difficult.
Tushka resident Jennifer Buffington said she, her husband, Tony Stiles, and their seven children initially sought shelter in the closet of their home but fled to a friend’s storm cellar when the sirens sounded.
“It felt like a bomb,” said Buffington, 36, whose children ranged in age from 1 to 20.
When the family emerged, they found their house had no windows and was heavily damaged, Buffington said.
“Everything in my house looks like shambles,” she said. The family was spending the night at the First Baptist Church in Atoka.
Paul Reano, CEO of Atoka County Medical Center, said 25 people were being treated for injuries related to the storm — ranging from cuts and scratches to more serious injuries. Reano did not have details on the more serious injuries.
Northbound U.S. 69, the main highway through the area, was closed in Tushka because semi-trailers and trees were scattered on the highway, emergency management officials said.
Tara Pittman, 36, was at a Walmart buying food and wasn’t aware of the storm until her husband, Bill, called and told her to take cover. The couple found out later that their mobile home was heavily damaged and they couldn’t stay there.
“I’m thankful because my family is OK; some people’s aren’t,” Pittman said.
The storm cell that caused damage at Tushka moved east-northeast, prompting forecasters to post tornado warnings along a 100-mile swath through southeastern Oklahoma. It was part of a system that had prompted tornado watches in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
In Sulphur, police reported that softball-sized hail — 4 inches in diameter — fell for a brief time around 4:30 p.m. The National Weather Service said it received similar reports from Dunbar and Tishomingo.
In Osage County, northwest of Tulsa, a storm damaged at least one house and a business and downed telephone poles, power lines and several trees near Hominy, Deputy Emergency Management Director Adrian Horn said.
“The business had its doors blown out of it and the siding was blown off,” Horn said. “We also have power lines down on (Oklahoma) Highway 99, so only one lane of traffic is open.”
In Lincoln County, Emergency Management Director Joey Wakefield said it was believed a tornado touched down near Stroud between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, though it might have been high winds.
“There was a window blown out at a barbecue restaurant and an awning was damaged at a gas station, but that may have been straight-line winds,” Wakefield said. “We got people out trying to find any other damage.”
Numerous severe thunderstorms with large hail and winds gusting to 70 mph were reported with many of the storms.
In Pushmataha County, strong winds blew over two signs and knocked down large tree limbs near Rattan, officials said.
In Marshall County, Emergency Management Director Hubert Weaver said three structures had roof damage but no injuries were reported in the storm that hit east of town near Highway 99.
Chelsea Blackwood, manager of a Sonic fast-food restaurant in the county, said employees were ready to head to a walk-in freezer, but the storm didn’t touch down near there.
“The winds speeds I’d say were really fast,” Blackwood said. “It was kind of hard for our car hops because they had to hold on to money better, but they still got job done.”
By Kristi Eaton