OKLAHOMA CITY — A series of tornadoes rolled through Oklahoma City and its suburbs at rush hour Tuesday, killing at least four people and critically injuring at least three children, authorities said.
Canadian County emergency director Jerry Smith said two people died when the storm hit El Reno and Piedmont in his county just west of Oklahoma City. He did not have any immediate details about the deaths.
Three children suffered major injuries in Piedmont, according to Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for the region's Emergency Medical Service Authority. She said emergency workers also were dispatched to a natural gas facility near El Reno after reports of an explosion.
A spokesman for a gas plant in the area owned by Devon Energy Corp. said there was no explosion at that facility. Chip Minty said workers activated an emergency shutdown before the storm hit, cutting the flow of gas into the plant. The gas already in the plant was allowed to dissipate, he said.
Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said a nearby natural gas rig, not owned by Devon, was knocked down by the storm. Skinner said state officials had no knowledge of an explosion at that rig.
The storms began about 3:00 today in western Oklahoma and followed tracks greater than 40 miles into the state capital. State offices and a number of businesses let their workers go home hours earlier so they could be out of harm's way.
Gary England, chief meteorologist at CBS affiliate KWTV in Oklahoma City, reported that the tornado was large, wedge-shaped and at least a quarter of a mile wide.
Interstate 40 was closed west of the city as the storm crossed the roadway near west suburban El Reno. Two storms also raked the southern side of the city — in the same area hit May 3, 1999, by the strongest tornado ever recorded. Earlier, at least one tornado has touched down in western Oklahoma, and a city employee says it has damaged trailers with people inside.
The National Weather Service reported the tornado touched down Tuesday afternoon about two miles north of Canton.
Canton city employee Linda Hisell said Tuesday that police reported a twister had moved through the area around Canton Lake, about 70 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, and damaged some trailers. Hisell says police reported that some people were inside.
In Caddo County, emergency management director Larry McDuffey says damage was reported near Lookeba and there were no immediate reports of injuries. McDuffey says trees and power lines were down, but officials don't know about damage to homes.
Tornado warnings were in effect late Tuesday for at least five counties in western Oklahoma and CBS News caught footage the twister touching down near Canton Lake, just north of Longdale. Television footage also showed an apparent tornado near Hinton in Caddo County.
An intense tornado outbreak was expected across much of Oklahoma Tuesday afternoon through early Wednesday.
The National Weather Service storm prediction center in Norman is forecasting the development of a few strong and violent tornadoes, very large hail and damaging winds
Meteorologist Alan Crone of CBS affiliate KOTV in Tulsa, says high moisture, strong winds and a strong low pressure system are creating the dangerous conditions.
The severe weather could also include wind gusts of 55 to 75 mph and nearly baseball-sized hail. It would be the third round of severe weather to hit northeast Oklahoma in as many days and comes just two days after the deadliest tornado in 60 years killed at least 117 people in Joplin.