A series of tornadoes struck central Oklahoma on Tuesday, wiping out homes and businesses and killing at least four people. Officials said the number could rise as search and rescue teams started to fan out across a state already battered by storms over the weekend.
The largest and most severe of the tornadoes struck around midday, touching down in Caddo County and then sweeping from the southwest to northeast corners of Canadian County, where it devastated El Reno, a town of 15,000 people about 25 miles west of downtown Oklahoma City.
Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said four people had died in Canadian County, where a weather-monitoring site recorded winds of 151 miles per hour, The Associated Press reported.
At least 60 people were reported injured across central Oklahoma, many along the Interstate 40 corridor that runs past El Reno.
The tornado left a trail of shredded and overturned cars along I-40, destroyed livestock, set off a gas line explosion and spurred people across El Reno to evacuate their homes. Amy Brandley, the Canadian County flood plain manager, said emergency crews had only just begun to assess the damage.
“Our county commissioner’s crews are out with heavy equipment clearing roads right now so search and rescues can take place,” she said.
The tornado that struck in El Reno was one of several twisters across the state on Tuesday. By 8 p.m., the National Weather Service had tornado watches in effect across 11 counties and was warning that “supercells,” which can spawn some of the most violent twisters, had developed across the central part of the state and were moving eastward. The agency posted an urgent alert on its Web site predicting an “outbreak of strong tornadoes” throughout late Tuesday.
“Plan now where you will seek shelter,” the notice advised.
In Kansas, the police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. near St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita, The A.P. reported.
The news agency said that funnel clouds were reported across the northern suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth around sundown Tuesday, with brief tornado touchdowns in Corinth, Saginaw and Bedford.
Other brief tornadoes were reported near Springtown and Azle, just northwest of Fort Worth, and near Muenster, 65 miles north of Fort Worth. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Even the National Weather Service was not immune from the danger. Earlier in the day its Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., about 20 miles south of downtown Oklahoma City, had to be evacuated as one of the day’s tornadoes approached.