Wicked weather hits south hard

Thousands lose power as tornadoes, high winds, combined with heavy rain pelt southern states.

BY BOND BRUNGARD | LAUREL, MS | May 4, 2009



"When I got to work, I was wading through water"

—Norma Guthrie, Church of Christ, Pryor, OK


Sheila Brooks was driving to work Monday, and when she drove by a park, she saw what really happened Sunday.

“The tops of pine trees were blown off,” said Brooks, the secretary at the First Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Severe storms moved through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, spawning tornadoes and causing power outages.

A 46-year-old woman was killed just before noon Sunday in this small city. Brooks, who was attending church at the time, said the storm didn’t seem particularly alarming just sporadic with damages such as with a fallen tree at a congregant’s residence.

“The lights flickered for a little bit,” said Brooks, as she was attending church, “but they came back on.”

About 10,000 people lost power near Atlanta Sunday, while another 6,000 people in Alabama did not have electricity.

It was raining last week in Oklahoma and by 6:30 p.m. Sunday, the community of Pryor had received more than 10 inches of rain, and eight inches fell on Friday.

Norma Guthrie works as the secretary at the Church of Christ there, and her four-hour workday was nearly shortened in half Friday because of the downpours.

“When I got to work, I was wading through water,” she said.

She went to work at 7 a.m. and after two and half hours her children picked her up and took her home, via many detours caused by high water and road closures.

“We could see cars that drove off the road,” she said, of the storm’s aftermath.

Two people died in the area, both found dead in their vehicles that were swept away by floodwaters. And Guthrie said heavy rains and high water were the most severe she had seen during her 74 years in Pryor.

It was a tough week, starting April 25, in northeastern Oklahoma near the borders of Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. Six tornadoes were spawned before the deluges caused flooding in around Mayes, Ottawa, Washington and Tulsa counties.

Michelann Ooten, the public information officer for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said teams are ready to inspect bridges and roads but are waiting for more favorable conditions.

“We’re waiting for the water to recede, so we can get teams on the ground to assess the damages,” she said.

Ooten said time is also still needed before state officials decide to ask for federal assistance and a disaster declaration.

Sandi Wilson, secretary to the Mayor of Pryor, had the day off Friday because of the rainfall. “I didn’t even make it to work,” she explained.

As she spoke, emergency management officials from Pryor and Mayes County were meeting to discuss what to do next. The American Red Cross has already set up shelters in the community.

“We’re just (waiting) to see what the next step is,” she said.


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