Tornado hits Oklahoma as storms batter Midwest
At least 125 injured
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Another violent outbreak of tornadoes pummeled the Midwest Thursday, wreaking havoc from the suburbs of Oklahoma City northward to the towns of eastern Kansas. There were no reports of fatalities.
At least one tornado swept through the Oklahoma City area Thursday evening, flattening several buildings.
A General Motors plant in nearby Midwest City, Oklahoma, was hit along with a housing subdivision near Tinker Air Force Base, authorities said.
In Thursday's storm, which closely followed the path of a deadly 1999 storm, the Oklahoma Civil Emergency Management, which collects and manages the reporting of data from local agencies, confirmed 73 injuries and no fatalities.
The tornado appeared during rush hour, around 5 p.m. CT (6 p.m. ET) and traveled across two major interstates, dropping debris and crippling traffic, said George Johnson, a spokesman at the Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center.
"Imagine the traffic jam you've got," Johnson said. "We're talking about several miles of debris going down the interstate."
"There are vehicles tossed hither and yon just like throwing pick-up sticks,"
Albert Ashwood, the state director of emergency management, said the GM plant took a "direct hit." The plant was operating at the time but the extent of injuries inside was not immediately known.
A plume of black smoke could be seen rising from the vicinity of the plant and power was knocked out to more than 26,000 residents in the Oklahoma City area.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said damage to the plant would have a "significant impact on the state and its economy," but he vowed the state would rebound. "We'll be stronger in the end," he said.
Michelann Ooten, an emergency management spokeswoman, said authorities were most concerned about people trapped in buildings and homes.
"We may have people trapped in vehicles. We may have people trapped in trailers," she said.
The National Weather Service issued a bulletin that said: "A large and violent tornado was located over southeast Midwest City, moving northeast at 35 mph. Homes and other large structures have already been flattened by this tornado."
A dispatcher with the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office said the city of Moore, Oklahoma, suffered "extensive damage" when the tornado moved eastwards.
State authorities said 300 homes were destroyed and 1,500 damaged.
Video from the scene showed the sign to the McDonald's twisted into a mangled heap, with the windows of the restaurant blown out. A playground for kids at the restaurant had its tunnels twisted apart and its glass wall hung in pieces.
Nearby homes and apartments had their roofs ripped off, trees were scattered across neighborhoods and power poles and lines were down in several areas.
Earlier, a "very dangerous" storm system began moving across central Kansas with forecasters warning the storm would intensify throughout the night, spawning tornadoes and dumping baseball-sized hail in its wake.
A tornado touched down in a field in Cloud County, Kansas, around 3:30 p.m., causing no major damage but putting authorities on alert.
Officials recorded 225 tornadoes for the first seven days of May -- already a record number and the total continues to rise. More than 40 people have been killed in the non-stop storms.
Forecasters said the violent storms were the result of a low-pressure system moving up from the southwest, mixing a lot of heat and moisture in the atmosphere. Areas that could be affected Thursday evening include eastern and central Kansas, western Missouri, northern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas.
Many of those areas sustained major damage when tornadoes ripped through earlier this week.
The death toll climbed higher Thursday morning when one person was killed in Georgia as floodwaters covered streets and delayed school openings.
The Troup County sheriff's department said high water swept a car off a road about 7:45 a.m. EDT, killing the driver. The incident occurred less than an hour after the sheriff's department banned all traffic in the county except for emergency vehicles.
Later in the afternoon, two tornadoes swooped down near Denver International Airport as severe thunderstorms barreled through the area. There were no reports of injuries and no damage was reported at the airport.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, school closings stretched into their third day Thursday with some 60 roads closed because of flooding.
Authorities said the Tennessee River -- which had reached its highest levels in 30 years in recent days -- receded Thursday morning but was still about five feet above flood level.
Maxwell said officials have estimated $10 million to $17 million worth of damage so far in the area. Three-hundred structures, including dozens of homes, have been affected, the Tennessee Valley Authority said.
The area received as much as 8 inches in less than a day, swelling the creeks and tributaries that feed into the Tennessee river. Emergency personnel have reported no injuries or deaths directly related to the flooding, she said.
In Mississippi, a day after Gov. Ronnie Musgrave declared a state of emergency, emergency management officials were working to "get a joint damage assessment team into the area, hopefully (Thursday)," spokeswoman Amy Carruth said.
That team would have representatives from FEMA, local government officials, and Mississippi emergency management department personnel and would focus "primarily on Monroe and Chickasaw counties," Carruth said.