Killer tornadoes devastate heartlands


OKLAHOMA CITY (May 4, 1999) -- Thousands of residents in Oklahoma and

Kansas are sifting through damage caused Monday by dozens of deadly

twisters. In Oklahoma alone, officials said it was the state's deadliest

tornado outbreak in

four decades as officials put the death toll at 40 with more than 500


The news also was grim in Kansas, where five people are reported dead and up

to 80 injured in Wichita and Haysville. Officials there fear they may find

more fatalities as the debris is cleared.

The twisters left thousands of homes damaged or destroyed in a 50-mile

stretch from Chickasha through Oklahoma City and on to Moore, where

emergency officials estimate half of the city's 15,000 homes sustained some

degree of damage.

Disaster relief efforts are in full force. The Salvation Army set up teams

within an hour of the tornado in Del City and Moore, providing shelter and

meals to survivors and providing counseling, said spokesperson Joan Fisher.

The organization called in members from Texas and Arkansas to handle the

disaster. American Red Cross personnel also established shelters and meal

stations for tornado survivors.

Weather officials said Tuesday, that the largest tornado appeared to have

stayed on the ground in Oklahoma for nearly four hours and cut a swath

nearly a mile wide in some places. President Bill Clinton vowed Monday

afternoon to quickly issue a disaster declaration for the region.

In Oklahoma, 11 people died in Bridge Creek, about 30 miles southwest of

Oklahoma City, where officials reported eight deaths. Midwest City reported

four deaths, while Moore listed three dead, Del City, two and one in Norman.

In Kansas, the Salvation Army set up shelters in South Wichita and

Haysville, while also tending to survivors' needs. Cherri Baer, a Church

World Service disaster resource consultant, is helping set up a meeting of

churches in those communities to tackle the ensuing recovery. Much of the

Haysville downtown area suffered heavy damage. Initial reports indicate 30

to 35 mobile homes destroyed, including some that were tossed into a nearby


Oklahoma is used to its share of tornadoes, but it's been a while since one

as deadly as this. On May 5, 1960, 32 people died when twisters struck

several Oklahoma communities. The five deaths is Kansas is the worst since

17 died during tornado outbreaks on April 26, 1991.

The combined death toll makes this the deadliest tornado outbreak since 90

people were killed on May 31, 1985, in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario.

Posted May 4, 1999 - 12:30 PM CST

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