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Oklahoma tornado

A tornado that was reported to be an EF4 (winds 166 to 200 mph) and nearly two miles wide struck an Oklahoma City suburb in the early afternoon on May 20.

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UW softball players take shelter in Oklahoma City during tornado emergency. Photo courtesy of UW softball.

(CNN) – [Breaking news update, 8:41 p.m. ET]

A new tornado has been reported just east of Will Rogers World Airport, the National Weather Service tweeted on Friday night.

CNN has confirmed a National Weather Service sensor at the airport recorded a 71 mph wind gust.

The University of Washington Huskies softball team, in Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, had to postpone their game. The game with Tennessee is part of the country’s largest World Series softball tournament and thousands of people were expected to attend.

[Original story posted at 8:25 p.m. ET]

Tornado emergency issued for Oklahoma City, twister-ravaged Moore

Thousands of people in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, including the twister-ravaged community of Moore, were scrambling for shelter on Friday after the National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for the area.

At least two tornadoes reportedly touched down, one southwest of the suburb of Bethany and another north of Union City, according to the National Weather Service’s Norman, Oklahoma, office.

Parts of Interstate 35, which cuts through Oklahoma City and Moore, were “a parking lot,” the weather service said, warning that those caught in the heavy rush hour traffic “are in danger.”

“Please try to get to a building or safe shelter!” the weather service tweeted.

Police and firefighters were responding to reports of damage in El Reno, just outside Union City, but it was not immediately known how bad the damage was, Mayor Matt White said.

The tornado emergency declaration means a large, destructive tornado is moving into a densely populated area where widespread damage and fatalities could occur.

The weather service issued the tornado emergency for Oklahoma City as well as its suburbs of Moore, Yukon and Bethany.

Authorities were urging people in the path of the tornado to take immediate cover, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin was urging residents not to take any risks.

Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport was evacuated over the threat from the approaching tornado, which the National Weather Service said was moving at 40 mph.

The storm was so fierce that the Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes, known for his on-the-ground severe weather reports, said his Tornado Hunt vehicle was thrown about 200 yards.

“Airbags deployed. All are safe,” Bettes said in a post on Twitter.

About 12,000 customers were without power by early Friday evening in the Oklahoma City area because of severe weather, the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. said.

More than half the city of Mustang, 17 miles south of Oklahoma City, was without power, Mustang Fire Chief Roy Widmann said.

SEATTLE — World Vision is getting involved in the relief effort under way in the ravaged areas hit by a deadly EF-5 tornado in Oklahoma.

The organization is well equipped. They have several warehouses across the country filled with vital supplies such as food kits sent to a disaster area.

The first World Vision volunteer left from Sea-Tac Wednesday morning. Lindsey Minverva, a volunteer with the organization will document the relief effort, talking to families and asking how World Vision is helping them.

OKC“It’s a little bit of a comfort to be part of the relief effort to know that World Vision is bring people help when they need it,” Minverva said.

World Vision has a warehouse in Texas and those supplies are already heading to the disaster area. There is also been a massive outpouring of donations that are helping in this effort and World Vision has received 47,000 dollars in just the last few days.

“We have very generous supporters, so we’ve been working in Texas with Texas relief efforts, so we’re all over the place,” Minverva said.

World Vision plans to send additional volunteers from the Northwest throughout the week.

Help for the people in Oklahoma has been flooding in from all over the country, some in the form of Urban Search and Rescue teams.

US&RIt’s very technical, very physically demanding and emotionally draining.

On the ground, after dark at the Plaza Towers Elementary School where seven children lost their lives in the tornado urban search and rescue teams, some from the military, are working through the night hoping that someone will still be found alive.

Few jobs pull a person’s mind and heart in so many directions.

“When you get out here and actually see all of the devastation and all the people that are affected by it, it really hits hard,” Oklahoma National Guard Specialist Josh Graggert said.

Their training is invaluable and they have some of the best equipment money can buy.

They can see in the dark and hear a pin drop under tons of rubble.

They excel at urban search and rescue.

“We have rescue guys trained to do heavy rescue, that is they can cut through steal, break concrete, lift concrete slabs off of people and shore up to make it safe for our people to go down inside,” Washington State Task Force One Search & Rescue manager Mike McCaffree said.

Mike McCaffree knows the job all too well.

He manages Washington state task force one, part of FEMA’s National Urban Search and Rescue System.

Task Force 1 is one of only 28 FEMA urban search and rescue teams in the country.

When called they have to be ready to go in just two to four hours.

“We have world class search dogs that go in and look for scent of people.  We have equipment, we have cameras that can go down under the rubble and look for people and we have listening devices that we can put out so if someone is underneath tapping it will help triangulate where they are so we know where to dig,” McCaffree said

That kind of expertise and technology is already on the ground in Oklahoma.

But sometimes being the best is not enough if team members don’t take care of themselves and each other.

Long days and emotional ups and downs can take their toll even on some of the most seasoned veterans who, even as they work to help others, must be reminded to take care of themselves as well.

“We’ve seen studies where rescuers who are sleep deprived, it’s like their driving drunk and their decision making gets bad.  It’s just reminding them to take care of themselves because this is going to go on for weeks and weeks and weeks and months and if they burnout in the first week they haven’t done themselves or anybody else any good,” Special Operations Coordinator Randy Fay said.

Task Force 1 had one member deploy to Oklahoma Monday night.

Members come from local law enforcement, fire departments and hospital emergency rooms here in Washington.

They train as a team and once the deployment ends task force members come back and resume their jobs in the local communities where their expertise, and all that experience  is available  for all of us, right here at home.

SEATTLE — Dawn Angelo, the regional CEO of the American Red Cross Western Washington, talked Tuesday about the organization’s relief efforts in tornado-ravaged Moore, Okla.

As search and rescue teams in Oklahoma continue their efforts, the first responders could soon be dealing with challenges of their own.

teacher1Randy Fay is a special operations coordinator with the Snohomish County Search and Rescue Team. He helps coordinate more than 300 team members and knows what men and women on the ground face in times like these.

“When you’re thrown into a situation like this, you’re  having to do a lot of planning on the spot,” Fay explains.

Keeping things organized in the face of devastation can be tough for grieving victims and eager volunteers, particularly in disaster situations as widespread as the Oklahoma tornado.

Fay adds, “I think the key thing to consider in this situation is the scope and scale of what they’re dealing with. Most of our training is around a certain size type event. Most of our experience is in small events.”

Recovery from this massive E-F5 tornado could take weeks. Over that time, these search and rescue teams could begin to suffer from a type of emotional and mental exhaustion known as “compassion fatigue.” which can be worse when you’re far away from home.

“That can set in pretty early. I think what’s going to be hard for a lot of volunteers coming from the area is, you always hear (from others) to go home and hug your kids. Well, those rescuers are not going to be able to do that,” explains Fay.

“There’s still hope that they’re going to be able to find people alive and that would be their highest goal and expectation. But at the same time you’re out there searching, you know that may not be a reality. And then your mind starts going places of how bad is this really going to be. And as time passes, from a sensory perspective, it can get very, very bad.”

Ray adds that his people are well-trained in helping others, but sometimes they’re not so good at helping themselves.

“This kind of work, even on a small scale leaves a mark. And you have to train those personnel that they have to have buffers and they need to take care of themselves,” Fay said.

A member from Washington Task Force one, a search and rescue team based in Tacoma, went to Oklahoma Monday night. There is no word yet on how he’s doing or if any more will be deployed for our area.

FIFE — Seeing the widespread devastation in Oklahoma, there’s an overwhelming desire to help from people across the country.

World Vision, the international Christian relief and development organization based in Federal Way, is ready to dive into the worst-hit areas with supplies and volunteers.

World Vision’s warehouse in Fife is big, but another warehouse just outside of Dallas is twice as large – and it’s packed with food and personal supplies destined for Oklahoma.

The organization is poised to send both supplies and volunteers to help the tornado’s victims.

“As a Christian, your heart goes out to folks, and working there, that’s what it’s about, giving,” said Antonio Evans, who works at World Vision. He can’t wait to get to Oklahoma to help with relief supplies.

Evans just finished a monthlong deployment in New York state, where he provided help after Hurricane Sandy. He will likely spend another month where tornadoes tore apart neighborhood after neighborhood.

“There are people with grave human needs who are looking for support,” said Romanita Hairston with World Vision. Hairston will pass out desperately needed food and cleaning supplies.

“I will be going in a couple of weeks,” said Hairston. “This is the kind of emergency where we get all of our emergency personnel who need to be mobilized on the ground and we want to do everything we can to be helpful.”

Just since Friday, World Vision has raised more than $47,000 in relief at their call centers and Web site.

The organization is poised to send two semi-trailer trucks full of supplies.

The Oklahoma tornado that leveled a community and killed dozens was even more powerful than first thought.

Moore-Tornado-jpgTuesday, the National Weather Service upgraded the rating on Monday’s deadly twister to E-F 5. That’s the most powerful rating, with wind speeds of more than 200 miles per hour.

The tornado hit the city of Moore, a large suburban area of Oklahoma City and killed at least 24 people, including nine children. Rescuers are using search dogs and infrared technology to find survivors among acres of debris.

The work is tough.

“One of the challenges with this type of event is because the devastation is so bad, it’s difficult to get a handle on how many are missing,” said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Very few structures that were in the path of the tornado are still standing. It was 2 miles wide and traveled 17 miles, chewing up and spitting out everything in its wake.

“I was praying to God so many times — and honestly, I didn’t think I was going to see tomorrow,” one survivor said.

Some are already cleaning up and vowing to rebuild in a part of the country long dubbed “Tornado Alley.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Falin said, “In the midst of tragedy and loss of life, we’ve also seen the resilience and the courage and the strength of our people and we will get through this, we will overcome and we will rebuild and we will regain our strength.”

The hospital in Moore was also destroyed, but no serious injuries were reported there. At least 230 people were  injured in the tornado.

In the parking lot of South Moore High School, storm chasers recorded the massive EF-5 tornado as it chewed up and spit out everything in its path.

okc tornado1 05-20-13A half-mile away, 75 students and teachers huddled inside Plaza Towers Elementary School. Most were pulled from the debris, but seven children did not survive — rescue crews found them dead on a lower level of the school drowned in a pool of water.

As the twister hit the school, students held on for their lives.

“I had to hold on to the wall to keep myself safe because I didn’t want to fly away,” one little girl said.

“A rock went down and hit me in the head and all the other girls were screaming and crying,” said her classmate.

Teachers are now being hailed as heroes for using themselves as human shields to protect their students.

At nearby Briarwood Elementary School, a video posted by the Oklahoman newspaper showed chaos as staff tried to account for students. Teachers screamed their names, asking kids to gather in groups by grade level. Video of the scene also showed moments of overwhelming emotion as parents reunited with their children as one mother scooped up her son, started sobbing and didn’t want to let him go.

The Office of Emergency Management reports there are approximately 100 schools in Oklahoma with safe rooms, but neither of the two schools struck by the tornado had them.

dog1

Photo courtesy Reddit

A tornado researcher at the University of Alabama at Huntsville couldn’t believe it when he heard Monday that a devastating twister was headed toward Moore, Okla.

“One of my graduate students came in my office yesterday and said, ‘Moore is about to be hit again,’ ” Kevin Knupp said. “I said, what?”

Monday’s devastating storm was the third major tornado to strike the town since 1999. But Knupp, whose work focuses on how external influences like features on the ground systems contribute to tornado formation, said that scientists don’t know yet whether the Oklahoma City suburb’s string of storm hits was random or a result of circumstances particular to the area.

“It stands out, and we don’t know if it’s luck of the draw or if there’s something physical or systematic going on,” he said. “I think with time we’ll have a better understanding.” He said that scientists may explore the question by building computer models that can simulate the conditions on the ground Monday in Moore.

Knupp said that he and his graduate student watched the tornado in real time, tracking its path using radar.  He said he thought that another dissipating storm in the area may have influenced the megatwister’s formation, creating a surge in momentum in low-level air that might have contributed to the circulation of the larger storm.

“It’s a case we can add to our list where the external influences seem to be prominent,” he said.

The pair measured the width of the tornado’s circulation at about 2 miles wide, and their radar readings indicated that debris was scattered across a path at least that broad. Early reports have estimated the storm’s strength rating at an EF4 level.  Knupp said he thought the tornado might be upgraded to an EF5 — the most powerful rating a tornado can receive — once scientists get a closer look at the damage on the ground.

He said that tornado researchers in Oklahoma would want to get started on aerial and ground-based damage surveys as soon as they could, to get the most accurate reading possible of the storm’s track and impact. But since it was cloudy Tuesday morning, they might not yet have been able to get out in the field, he added.

He said he thought a local weatherman’s suggestion that the twister was “the worst in the history of the world” was probably tinged by the intense emotions of the day.

“There are various ways to make that evaluation,” Knupp said.  “But while the tornado was intense and wide, it was about as bad as it gets.  I can’t dispute that.”

–Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times

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