Saturday, June 1, 2013
The body of a 4-year-old girl was recovered after she was swept away by the rising floodwaters in the wake of tornadoes that ravaged the Oklahoma City area, but what happened to the rest of her family is unknown, police said today.
The young girl and her family took shelter from the barrage of tornadoes that touched down Friday night in a ditch three miles south of downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City Police Department spokesman Lt. Jay Barnett told ABC News.
"They were seeking shelter from the storm and got caught up in it somehow," Barnett said. "She was trapped by the fast-rising waters associated with the storm and got swept away."
Barnett said it is believed she hid out with family members who may have included a 21-year-old adult male, as well as her 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 5-month-old relatives.
Barnett could not confirm whether the girl was included in the nine deaths listed by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office.
The whereabouts of the child's family are still unclear, Barnett said.
"Until we actually recover additional bodies and are able to speak with available witnesses, we can't say for certain what happened," Barnett said. "We can also hold out some hope that not all of them were swept away, that not all perished."
Barnett could not comment on where the girl's body was found, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.
A mother and her baby were also killed after they were sucked out of their car during the tornadoes.
The storm, which included an estimated five twisters, left others huddled and crying in walk-in freezers, smashed and flipped cars and trucks, and turned roads into rivers.
The woman and her infant were in a vehicle on Interstate 40 when the storm struck during rush hour. They were just miles from the city of Moore, which was devastated by a massive tornado that killed 24 people on May 20, said Betsy Randolph, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
"A mother and baby lost their lives out here tonight," Randolph said. "They were swept up in the storm... (They were) traveling on the interstate and their car was sucked up into the tornado and they were sucked out of their vehicle and thrown from their vehicle.
"We know that the storm picked them up and swept them away. When the troopers found them, they were both deceased," the officer added.
They were not immediately identified.
Randolph described a nightmarish situation on the interstate.
"The sky was black, there was debris flying through the air," she told ABC News. She said there was heavy rain and hail the size of "softballs" that was hitting people as they escaped from cars that were colliding and being sent airborne by the storm.
"It was absolute chaos with all the crashes and vehicles flying through the air," she said.
Randolph compared the damage along Highway 40 to a parking lot strewn with wrecked cars and said there were not enough troopers to respond to each accident.
Hail, flood waters and downed power lines made it difficult for police and emergency crews to access the area, Randolph said.
"I cannot stress to you just how important it is that if people don't have to be out, that they stay inside and seek shelter," she said.
Beverly Allam, 57, was trying to leave her home and head south to outrun the storm, but got trapped in what she called "a mass exodus" as other motorists also tried to flee.
She was at Highway 9, 10 miles from I-40, but the winds were strong enough to push her van into a different lane and make her fear that the van would tip over. She was with her daughter Helema, 16, and son Mohamed, 33. They fled for shelter into a Sinclair gas station and took shelter with 50 other strangers in the station freezer.
In the freezer there were a few people freaking out crying with their pets, she said. There were some comforting others, and a few just trying to keep things light with jokes.
This storm particularly scared her and she has lived in Oklahoma her whole life. She describes the sky as pitch black and said she was able to see power surges and flashes in the sky.
"You just try to make a run for it and get away," Allam said.
She was particularly scared because she has never been without a shelter in storm situations, "the only way to survive theses storms," she said.
When they emerged from the freezer, Allam saw that her car windshield had been shattered by the hail and the lot was littered with glass and huge balls of hail. On her way home after the worst had passed "the roads were like rivers," Allam said.
Addie Pendarvis was working at a Sonic, a drive- in diner, when the tornado emergency went into effect.
"When my bosses called me, I had to get everyone and put them in the walk-ins until I got the call to get everybody out that it had passed us," she said.