At least 5 dead as tornadoes touch down near Oklahoma City

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DEVELOPING: Deadly tornadoes touched down Friday west of Oklahoma City, crumbling cars and tractor-trailers, trapping motorists and killing at least five.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said troopers found the bodies of a mother and a child near a vehicle along Interstate 40 west of the city. Gov. Mary Fallin said at least three others were killed during Friday’s storms.

The broad storm hit during the evening rush hour, causing havoc on I-40, a major artery connecting suburbs east and west of the city. Violent weather also moved through the St. Louis area, ripping the roof off a suburban casino.

To the south, winds approaching 80 mph were forecast for Moore, where a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado killed 24 on May 20. Meanwhile, at least 54,000 people were affected by power outages. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol also reported motorists injured or trapped in their cars in the Oklahoma City area while others were missing.

Tornado warnings were lifted in the region late Friday night.

Earlier in the day, the National Weather Service has issued a tornado emergency for the city’s downtown, airport and several suburbs. The weather service issues an emergency if a storm with tornadoes is heading toward large metropolitan area. The warning covered Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, which was evacuated at 6:30 p.m. while staff and passengers were taken to an underground tunnel until the threat passed, and there were no flights inbound or outbound.

Heavy rain and hail hampered rescue efforts in Oklahoma City. Frequent lightning roiled the skies well after the main threat had moved east. Highways and streets were clogged late into the night as motorists worked their way around flooded portions of the city.

Emergency officials reported that numerous injuries occurred in the area along I-40, and Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area. Troopers requested a number of ambulances at I-40 near Yukon, west of Oklahoma City.

“We’re scrambling around,” said Lara O’Leary, a spokeswoman for the local ambulance agency. “There is very low visibility with the heavy rain … so we’re having trouble getting around.

Standing water was several feet deep, and in some places it looked more like a hurricane had passed through than a tornado.

In Missouri, gamblers rushed from the floor of the Hollywood Casino in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights as a storm ripped off its roof. Trees and power lines were also down, and more than 40,000 people lost power.

In Oklahoma, storm chasers with cameras in their cars transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. Police urged motorists to leave I-40 and seek a safe place.

“I’m in a car running from the tornado,” said Amy Sharp, who last week pulled her fourth-grade daughter from the Plaza Towers Elementary School as a storm approached with 210 mph winds. “I’m in Norman and it just hit Yukon where I was staying” since last week’s storm.

“I’m with my children who wanted their mother out of that town,” Sharp said, her voice quivering with emotion.

Television cameras showed debris falling from the sky west of Oklahoma City and power transformers being knocked out by high winds across a wider area.

As the storm bore down on suburban Oklahoma City, Adrian Lillard, 28, of The Village, went to the basement of her mother’s office building with a friend, her nieces, nephews and two dogs.

“My brother’s house was in Moore, so it makes you take more immediate action,” Lillard said while her young nieces played on a blanket on the floor of the parking garage. “We brought toys and snacks to try our best to keep them comfortable.”

Well before Oklahoma’s first thunderstorms fired up at late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman was already forecasting a violent evening. From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents were told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.

Friday evening’s weather came after flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas late Thursday and early Friday. Three others were missing in floods that followed 6 inches of rain in the rugged Ouachita Mountains near Y City, 125 miles west of Little Rock.

This spring’s tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.