LONE GROVE, Okla. (AP) — Emergency crews on Wednesday searched the wreckage of homes and businesses smashed by an unusual cluster of February twisters that ripped across Oklahoma, killing at least eight people.
One young woman was lifted into the air as a tornado pulled the roof off a house, but her mother and others held her down.
Firefighters moved aside bricks and fallen walls as they sought to ensure there were no additional victims in Lone Grove, where all of the victims died Tuesday and 14 people were seriously injured, said Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten. Each building that had been searched was then marked with a large, spray-painted "X."
Rescuers found one woman injured but alive under an overturned mobile home.
Ooten said the National Guard was sent to help. "We will do everything we can to get Oklahomans the assistance they need," Gov. Brad Henry said.
Buildings were damaged or destroyed throughout the town of about 4,600, some 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, said Chester Agan, assistant emergency manager for Carter County.
Much of the most severe damage appeared to be centered in two mobile home parks that were "pretty much wiped out," said Dave Smith, a paramedic who helped in the first emergency response.
All that was left of the mobile homes Wednesday were the cinder blocks they sat on. Trees were uprooted or snapped in half, cars had been flung around like toys and their hoods were ripped off.
The eight confirmed deaths included seven people in Lone Grove and a truck driver who was driving through the area, said Robert Deaton, interim chief investigator for state Medical Examiner's office.
Part of the roof blew off the house where Lana Hartman crowded into a small clothes closet with her two daughters, three grandchildren and two friends. The twister lifted one of her daughters into the air, but everyone grabbed the girl, she said.
"We held onto each other and did a lot of praying," said Hartman's friend Carole McFarland.
"I was in shock, I think I still am," Hartman said. "We're alive, that's all that matters."
Hartman, who had just moved into the rented house on Monday, said there wasn't much warning. "We heard the sirens blow and it was here," she said.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning, meaning a tornado is imminent and residents should take shelter, at 6:50 p.m. Another was issued at 7:15 p.m. when the tornado was spotted, and the twister hit Lone Grove 10 minutes later.
Tears rolled down the cheeks of Trina Quinton as she stood next to a pile of rubble that used to be a furniture store owned by a cousin.
"This is where I was raised, this is where I grew up," she said.
The furniture store was closed when the tornado struck and her cousin's family wasn't there. "This is how they make their living, rebuilding is probably not going to be an option," Quinton said.
Lone Grove resident Joe Hornback, 42, said he and his neighbors took shelter in the only cellar on their block. "There were 30 of us in a 6 by 6 underground cellar," he said.
Shirley Mose was not home when the tornado struck but returned Wednesday morning with members of her family and found her home destroyed and her pickup truck wrecked.
"I had a little Chihuahua that stayed in there," Mose said. "We found her bed, but not her. I guess she's gone."
A twister also damaged homes and businesses in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, but only three minor injuries were reported. Another tornado was reported in north-central Oklahoma, six homes were destroyed near the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond and a tornado caused property damage but no injuries in Springfield, Mo.
Meteorologists would survey the damage Wednesday, said Doug Speheger, a meteorologist with the weather service in Norman.
"We don't really have any indication of how a strong a tornado the Lone Grove one was," Speheger said.
The tornado in northwest Oklahoma City apparently developed near Wiley Post Airport and then headed northeast, damaging several shopping centers and restaurants at a major intersection.
That twister then hit the Boulder Ridge Apartments, a spread of two-story units surrounding a courtyard.
Shawn Tiesman, 33, moved to the complex from Iowa about four months ago and got his first taste of Oklahoma's notorious weather but without the same protection of his former home.
"Where I'm from, we've got basements," Tiesman said. "I'm amazed that there's no basements here."
He invited his upstairs neighbors into his apartment and then used his futon mattress to barricade them into a walk-in closet. While they were in the closet, a large section of roof was blown off one of the complex's buildings and part of a wall was blown off another.
Tornado sirens were sounded in the area but some residents said they were still caught off guard. "I can't believe we didn't hear it," said Traci Keil, 37.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric reported about 8,900 customers without power, nearly 3,500 in Lone Grove, according to its Web site.
Tornadoes in Oklahoma are most frequent in the spring, but can occur at any time, weather service meteorologist Rick Smith said.
Since 1950 the state has been struck by 44 February tornadoes, said Speheger at the weather service. The most recent one before Tuesday's spurt occurred Feb. 24, 2000, damaging a barn and power lines in Ellis and Harper counties in western Oklahoma.
Outside Oklahoma, however, Speheger said an outbreak of twisters on Feb. 5, 2008, killed more than 50 people in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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