COLE, Okla. — Crews scrambled Thursday to restore power to thousands of residents after tornadoes plowed through Oklahoma during another deadly spring storm in the U.S., killing at least three people and damaging dozens of homes.
A day after at least eight tornadoes spun through Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt said authorities were still assessing the scale of destruction. He toured the aftermath in Shawnee, where nearly every building at Oklahoma Baptist University showed damage. A home improvement store was destroyed, but several people sheltering inside survived. Two long-term care facilities and a hospital in Shawnee were also damaged.
“The damage is unbelievable when you walk through there,” Stitt said after touring the city.
Stitt also visited the small town of Cole, where he said two people died and 50 to 100 homes were damaged. Authorities said a third person who was injured had also died, but it was not immediately clear where that person was injured.
“There are definitely dozens of various injuries, from minor all the way up to fatalities,” said Deputy Sheriff Scott Gibbons of McClain County, the county south of Oklahoma City where Cole is located.
Gibbons told television station KOCO that one victim in McClain County, where Cole is located, is a 66-year-old man.
Deadly storms this spring have killed dozens of people across a wide swath of country, including one in March that produced tornadoes and killed at least 32 people from Arkansas to Delaware. Days later, another tornado left five dead in Missouri.
Employees of a pizza restaurant in Shawnee said they took shelter in the walk-in freezer, and when they emerged, parts of the roof and shattered windows littered the parking lot.
“There was a lot commotion. People were starting to get a little frantic," said Bekah Inman, general manager of a Papa John’s Pizza in Shawnee, speaking to Oklahoma television station KOCO.
At Oklahoma Baptist University, sophomore Kennedy Houchin hid in a storm shelter with about 30 other people. When she was finally able to safely leave after about two hours, she saw the devastation the tornadoes had left on campus and elsewhere in Shawnee: downed trees, flipped cars and buildings with gaping holes.
When she ran into her volleyball teammates on campus, they embraced. “It was a good moment to see everyone and know everyone was OK,” Houchin said.
Following the storms, Stitt declared a state of emergency in five counties: Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie.
At the peak of the storm, there were more than 34,000 power outages reported, but that number had dropped by Thursday evening to about 16,000, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the Office of Homeland Security reported.
KFOR-TV reported that residents south of Oklahoma City said they were trapped in their underground shelters. In Cole, two people emerged unhurt after riding out the storm in a manhole, the television station reported.