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Tornado Threat

Aired May 31, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 on the East Coast, 9:00 in Oklahoma, where the breaking news is taking place, also now in Saint Louis and Missouri and areas around it.

The immediate threat of tornadoes is now in the Saint Louis, Missouri, area, where one confirmed twister has hit. Here's the latest, though, out of Oklahoma. One tornado warning is still in effect there for the far eastern side of Oklahoma City metro area, also, a serious flash flooding threat. At least three tornadoes reportedly touched down, one El Reno. That tornado moved toward Bethany and was also seen near the fairgrounds and by the airport, one north of Union City and another outside Tinker Air Force Base.

A short time ago, the National Weather Service tweeted that the tornado threat is decreasing. That is certainly the good news. KOCO is reporting one confirmed fatality in Union City. Police said the person killed was in a car. KOCO is also reporting multiple injuries on Interstate 40, where cars and tractor trailers were said to be flipped over. How many, we don't know.

Earlier, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol described this situation as dire, with thousands of people believed to be stuck in the traffic. More than 50,000 customers in the area right now without power. The Will Rogers Airport has lost power as well. More than 1,000 people have been seeking shelter there.

Chad Myers joins me now from El Reno, west of Oklahoma City.

Chad, explain what we have been witnessing over the last hour or so.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's been the regeneration of storms, Anderson.

One storm would move over the top of where another storm just was. And that's not very typical, because when a storm runs over the area, it uses up the atmosphere, which means it takes all the humidity and all the heat away and the air gets much cooler. So there's no real hot air for the next storm to come in.

But because the wind was so strong from the south and because we were so hot today, 92, 94, you couldn't walk outside without feeling it. It just hit you right in the face. Our dew point, you know what that means, 74 degrees. You walk out, you're about 70 relative humidity and it's just really sweltering. So all that energy, all that humidity was used by the second storm and then a third storm and then a fourth storm. So, people were -- they couldn't get out of the way of this. We couldn't even feel like we were getting out of the way either because the traffic got so bad.

We probably went two miles in almost an entire hour where people were just trying to get away. Rather than shelter in place, they were trying to drive away from this system, and then realize that, oh, no, that's not the only system I need to drive away from. There's another. There's another. There's another. And that's what it was like all day, not being able to -- out of the way, just getting stuck in the traffic and feeling like, well, I can't be going two miles an hour. Another tornado may come right over the top of me.

COOPER: And we're starting to see some images of just kind of the rain, the serious flooding concerns right now, and, as I said, tornadoes in Missouri. That is where our focus is going to continue to be throughout this hour.

Also, in this hour, we're really going to start to get a sense of what kind of an impact these tornadoes have had in Oklahoma. As you heard, one in Union City, one confirmed fatality, a local affiliate quoting the Union City Police Department, but, again, reports from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol of multiple vehicles, tractor trailers and cars overturned on highways.

And that's where a lot of concern from the governor and other officials has been over the last several hours, those highways that have become parking lots. They were urging people for the last several hours to get off the highways, if possible, head south. Head east.

So, now in this hour ahead, we're really trying to get a sense of what kind of an impact, what kind of injuries have been sustained and what kind of damage we're seeing, and again, the developing situation now in Missouri. We're going to continue to track it.

Joining me right now is El Reno, Oklahoma, is Mayor Matt White.

Mayor, we talked to you in the 8:00 hour. Do you have a sense of how things are in El Reno right now? Because the storm hit there. I think it was around 6:37 p.m. Local time.

Mayor White, if you can hear me, how are things right now in El Reno?

Clearly having some trouble...


COOPER: Yes. Mayor White, it's Anderson Cooper. You're on the air.


COOPER: How are things in El Reno?

LEWIS: No, this is Glenn Lewis in Moore.

COOPER: OK. Mayor Lewis, I apologize.

How are things in Moore right now, Mayor Lewis? Are you still in shelter?

LEWIS: It's flooded.

No, sir, I'm out about in the -- in my truck right now. And we're kind of taking a tour of the damage. Everything is dark. The power is all out on the south side, the east side -- or excuse me -- the west side of town and most of the east side. So, there's very little power here. The streets are flooded. I can't even get home to see if my house is OK.

Or I'm headed out now to see if my mom's house is OK. So, I don't really know. So, we have seen probably seven or eight ambulances heading into town very similar, just about two blocks south of where it hit last week, as a matter of fact. And it's looks like there's trees in the road. There's damage everywhere.

So, we're pretty concerned. We can't really see how much damage is done, but everybody from every station is going in right now and they're getting back out in their vehicles and kind of just trying to figure out what's what and where we are right now.

COOPER: And, obviously, with so much water on the ground, it's important for people in that area to not try to go into that area for safety reasons and also to allow any first-responders to...

LEWIS: Absolutely, because there are power lines down too all over. So, you know, you don't want to touch any metal when you go over them. That's for sure.

COOPER: You were saying in one area it's about two blocks or so from where the last tornado was more than a week ago.

LEWIS: Yes, sir.

COOPER: Is the track similar to that tornado?

LEWIS: No, it actually went catty-corner from it.

It went -- this one went from north to south. The other one came up from south north. So, it's almost like a diagonal. It's like an X across the city is what it looks like. But over where you guys were reporting the other day, it was right by that same location by the Warren Theatre again. And that was kind of where it met in the middle again this time.

But I didn't see much damage there. I think it just skipped over the top of it, because on the other side, there's damage, and on the other side of the interstate, there would have been a lot of damage, but it's already gone. So... COOPER: And are all of the lights out, as far as you can see?

LEWIS: Yes, sir.

There's -- only on the far east side so far is the only lights that we have seen. And like I said, we're going up hills and the water is probably, oh, six to eight inches deep up on the top of the hill.


LEWIS: So, it's really raining hard.

COOPER: All right, Mayor Lewis, I know you got a lot to do and to check our your community. We will check back with you later on in this hour. Appreciate it. Good luck to you.


COOPER: And the Highway Patrol just warning people, as the mayor of Moore was warning people, do not -- if you're in the Oklahoma City metro area, they really do not want people getting in their vehicles and going out for kind of a look-see at what the situation is.

They want people to stay where they are right now if they are in a shelter or in their homes. They don't need more people out on the road. There is a lot of water. There are downed power lines. It's a very dangerous situation.

CNN's George Howell joins me now for more.

George, where are you right now? What are you seeing?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you that we are out of the concern area.

We're headed towards Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. So, we're in a better area. We're about to regroup and figure out what our next plan is. But just behind me, you can still see this wall of solid black clouds. You can still see a little bit of daylight.

Anderson, as we lose light, that's the big concern, because when these tornadoes form and you can't see them, now, that's a real concern. People may think that the storm has passed and really it hasn't. There's still a great storm system over the Oklahoma City area.

Right now, I don't see any tornado warnings. And I believe that's what our meteorologists have been saying as well. I have been listening very closely. But it's still a very big storm system.

One other thing I can talk to you about, just the evacuation plan. So, in a situation like this, you have got two options. You can either go into a storm shelter or shelter in place, if that's your only option, or you can get out ahead of the storm. And you have to do it early. You have to listen to the warnings and you have to move. That's what we ended up doing. And fair to say that we were far enough ahead of the storm to find safety. And a lot of people did that. However, the highways did back up as people did try to get out perhaps too late. A lot of people ran into that heavy rain, the hail. So you do still see people leaving Oklahoma City, but, just for record, a lot of people did get out of the way pretty quickly, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, and, again, when I talked to the governor of Oklahoma, Governor Fallin, about two hours ago or so ago, she made a point of stressing that a lot of businesses had closed early, tried to get their people out early in the day.

They had put warnings out for people to stay off the roads, but I-35, I-40 at times became parking lots. And there's a big concern about what kind of injuries may have occurred on those highways, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reporting overturned tractor trailers and cars, one fatality confirmed, according to police in Union City, Oklahoma, of a person in a vehicle. We don't have a lot of details, though, on exactly what happened to that person.

I spoke earlier with a resident of Moore, Candace Looper, who was taking shelter in her laundry room with her cat. This is what she said.


COOPER: Candace, how are you holding up?

CANDACE LOOPER, RESIDENT OF OKLAHOMA: I'm fine. I have been praying and I have been singing the Lord's Prayer and singing "Amazing Grace," so I'm OK.

COOPER: And you're -- do you have anyone else with you or just your cat?

LOOPER: Just my cat.

COOPER: How is the cat doing?

LOOPER: She's upset.



COOPER: So, the laundry room that you're in, is that where you traditionally shelter?

LOOPER: I have never actually had to in this house. I have only lived in this house a year.

So -- but it's the innermost room has no windows. It has two exits, and I have got giant couch pillows stacked up on me.

COOPER: Wow. So you actually have pillows stacked up on you? LOOPER: Yes, seat cushions and pillows.

COOPER: Goodness. And where are you in Moore in terms of where the last tornado hit? I assume your house was OK from the last one?

LOOPER: Yes. I had a lot of debris and a lot of mud.

The Briarwood Elementary School was on 149th. I'm on 156th. And I'm about straight across from the elementary school just that many blocks from it.

COOPER: OK. I know your neighborhood well. I was there just last week at Briarwood. So, there were some parts of the areas around Briarwood that, as you said, the houses were OK, just got real dirty and had some minor damage, but were spared.


COOPER: Briarwood, of course, was completely destroyed, but thankfully all the students in Briarwood and all the teachers were safe. Can you believe, Candace, that another storm is heading toward Moore at this point?

LOOPER: No, I actually can't. No. I'm feeling something. I'm hearing -- I'm hearing noises and I just felt some water.

COOPER: What kind of noises are...

LOOPER: I don't really know what...


LOOPER: ... out there.

COOPER: what kind of noises are you hearing, Candace?

LOOPER: Well, a little while ago, it was wind, but now it sounds like rain. But it's really funny that me being in this room, and I actually felt something hit my arm. I'm intact. This room is totally intact.

COOPER: So you don't have any windows in that room?

LOOPER: No, I don't.

COOPER: That's certainly the safest place to be, then.

Listen, Candace, we're going to continue to check in with you. Obviously, we're trying to track this storm as closely as possible, figure out exactly where it is. But I wish you the best.


COOPER: Welcome back.

That was Candace. We spoke to her earlier. We will try to reestablish contact just to make sure she is OK.

The Oklahoma newspaper has an update from Oklahoma City Police Lieutenant Jay Barnett. I'm going to just read it to you directly.

The is the police lieutenant, Barnett, saying -- quote -- "We are overwhelmed right now with calls of people trapped in vehicles in high water, to the point that we are having grave difficulty even responding to all of them. The flooding is the major problem in the Oklahoma City metro. A lot of that has to do with people who, for whatever reason, instead of sheltering decided to outrun the storm and got caught in it."

They, at this point, do not have any reports of serious injuries or fatality. It doesn't mean we won't have any. He when on to say -- he's saying, "We're hopeful the tornado did not set down in Oklahoma City. There's flooding on a large scale," a lot of people, he says, trapped in large vehicles. And again he reiterates what you're hearing from a lot of officials.

If you do not absolutely have to travel, do not travel at all right now, not to any part of the city. There's widespread flooding. He said, "I don't know what else to say about that. Areas of the city that don't normally flood, we're seeing flooding. We're also dealing with traffic jams that resulted from high traffic volumes that appear to have been generated by the storms."

But, again, the headline here is they are having grave difficulty even responding to all of the calls they are getting from people who are said to be trapped in vehicles in high water. So that now is a developing situation. As the threat from new tornadoes has dissipated, the threat from these floods and dealing with all these people, these thousands of people who have been on the highways and trapped on the highways, they -- now authorities are stretched incredibly thin trying to respond to all of that.

Michael Townsend was at the Will Rogers World Airport when it was evacuated. He took shelter with others in tunnels in the parking garage. He joins us now.

What was it like? What was the situation there?

MICHAEL TOWNSEND, SURVIVOR: Well, it was pretty tense moments, just trying to get everybody down in the tunnels. Everybody was (AUDIO GAP) from the parking garage coming in from the terminal.

It's a tunnel that is about 500 yards long and that connects the long parking garage to the terminal. And it just got pretty hot pretty fast down there. Everybody was trying to check their cell phones to keep up with the storm.

Several of us during that time would kind of go to the top -- the top of the tunnel in the parking garages, which you can actually see outside. So the parking garages of course have solid structures above and below and then the sides are wide open. And there were some -- several moments of -- I don't know how close the tornado came, but the rain was horizontal, the signs were blowing around. And there were -- you could see some tree limbs flying by, so it was pretty tense.

COOPER: I had read there was as many as 1,200 people in the airport at the time. Does that seem right to you?

TOWNSEND: Yes, that would be pretty close, because hat tunnel was pretty packed.

And the airport -- the terminal area is open now. They haven't opened up the area to loading, of course. But we're in the ticket check area and the baggage check area now anyway, and it's just torrential downpour right now. It hasn't stopped coming down for three hours right now. So, I can -- and, actually, when we were out in the parking garage area coming up, it was all flooding in the first floor. So, it was...


COOPER: Are you trying to fly out of there?

TOWNSEND: I'm trying to get to New York City, which isn't going to happen.


COOPER: So, do you know what you're going to do? Because it just seems like getting anywhere in Oklahoma City right now, police are saying stay off the roads. There's flooding in a lot of areas that don't even normally see flooding.


COOPER: Are you anticipating a night at the airport?

TOWNSEND: Well, we haven't heard whether they're going to open it later tonight or not. So, the airlines were telling us they were still hoping to get flights out between 10:00 and 11:00.

We're on emergency power still. So I'm not sure what else is going to happen. So, we're going to hang out for a couple hours. And if we don't get home, I'm living in Oklahoma anyway, so I will try to get on the roads and get back home best I can.

COOPER: Well, Michael, listen, I'm glad you're doing OK and everybody else at the airport is OK. And I'm sorry for what you're facing in the hours ahead. But good luck to you. And we will try to check back in with you.

We have just gotten this video in, and I'm seeing this for the first time as you are, the storm forming in El Reno. I believe this occurred around 6:30-7:00. Take a look at this. You really get an up-close view. It's probably the closest we have seen. Let's watch this.




COOPER: Yes, it is just -- it just sounds like a miserable situation in a lot of places, Moore and in Oklahoma City metro. And, again, people should stay where they are. Do not try to get in your vehicle. Police really want the roads as clear as possible, because there's a lot of -- there have been a lot of overturned vehicles on those highways and a lot of folks that still are now trapped in their vehicles with rising water, according to police officials.

We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.


COOPER: Well, it was only last week that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin had to deal with a deadly tornado that tore through the city of Moore. Tonight, again, she has her hands full.

I spoke to her by phone again a short time ago.


COOPER: Governor Fallin, what's the situation? How concerned are you about what's happening right now on the ground?

GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I'm very concerned right now.

We have massive, big storms around our major populated areas around Oklahoma City, Del City, Midwest City, Tinker Air Force Base, Moore, Norman, some up northeast Oklahoma. I'm here right across from the Capitol and it is hailing and blowing and raining extremely hard.

Our tornado sirens have gone off several times. And we have -- my biggest concern right now is the traffic that's been out on the highway. We actually put warning signs with our Department of Transportation up on the highway about 4:00 today to be aware of the weather, that there could be a possibility of severe storms, and trying to get people just to go home and stay off the roads.

But looking at our local news stations right now, there's a lot of traffic on our major interstates. And I have called out our National Guard and our Oklahoma Highway Patrol and our emergency management director, and we're trying to do everything we can to get the traffic just moving in a direction away from the storm.

But I'm very concerned about the people that might be in the -- just in the wind and the hail and possible tornado paths.

COOPER: Governor, I spoke to a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol who says it is a dire situation, talking about I-35, I- 40. They are urging people if they can to get off those highways, head east, head south. FALLIN: That's...


COOPER: But they are saying it is bumper-to-bumper on I-35.

FALLIN: It is. It is.

And we did put up warning signs early in the afternoon today, when the skies were perfectly clear. I mean, they were cloudy, but there was no thunderstorms on the radars at all. So we have been telling all day that people need to be weather-aware, and we had the signs up.

And I think when the storm started moving in about 6:00 -- 5:30 or 6:00, it was the time when people get off work, and then you got people that just are traveling down those two major interstates that cross Oklahoma, and may not be aware that -- how severe this weather might be.

But I know a lot of businesses let people off at 2:00, 3:00 this afternoon just to get them home and get them safe, because we knew we were going to have some bad weather.

COOPER: Well, there are reports of multiple overturned vehicles, some tractor trailers, some cars, according to the Highway Patrol.

There are reports of injuries. We don't know the extent of those. Do you have any reports of any update on that?

FALLIN: I have heard that there are trucks that are overturned on our major interstate along I-40, which is a big area that people travel through, right through a major kind of shopping business district.

And that was where we were first seeing the storm about an hour ago. It's pretty -- it's kind of a slow-moving storm, which is always a problem. And then it's moving down towards I-35. Other storms are close to the Moore area. And I know they're getting heavy rain, and it's hailing here where I'm at right now in the central part of Oklahoma City.

But our big concern is that we have got to get people off the highways, get them safe. If they can get off an exit and just go to some building, get inside a building, especially inside of a basement itself, that's the best thing, because we -- we saw after the last storm people who had cars in parking lots or some that were on the highways. They get tossed around really easy in high winds.

COOPER: Yes. And, certainly, I just talked to the mayor of Moore, who you know very well, Governor Fallin, who said it's just unthinkable that his town could be hit yet again.

FALLIN: I know.

So, we are heartsick about it. We hope that this storm passes through and that it's just some rain and hail. But we do know that the winds are up pretty good, and there's just a loud rumble outside. I stepped out just a few moments ago, and it was hailing just loud from all the thunder and lightning.

But, as soon as it's safe to go out, I'm going to be checking to see where we have damage around the state. I know our command center is up and running. I know we've talked several times, and everybody in the command center is all working together just like they did last week so well.

COOPER: If anybody can get through this, it's the people of Oklahoma because, unfortunately, you are all too familiar with these kind of storms. I wish you the best. Continue to check in with you throughout this evening. Governor Fallin, appreciate your time. Thank you.


COOPER: That was my conversation with Governor Fallin from about an hour, or an hour and a half ago.

CNN is reporting there's a hospital in Yukon, Oklahoma, which is reporting two fatalities right now. Fourteen patients, three critical, amid the storm.

And I want to check in with our Chad Myers, who has been monitoring this and following it; was in a safe area off the highway. It does seem like, Chad, that right now the focus is not only on the flooding in the Oklahoma City metro area and Moore and places around there, but, also, what has occurred on the highways, I-35, I-40. And police are having a hard time. They call it a dire situation, trying to respond. They are stretched very thin, trying to respond to all the calls they're getting.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, what happened in Yukon was that storm in El Reno, it just spun up so quickly we were sitting probably 15 miles from it. And all of the sudden, it was probably an EF-3 wedge tornado on the ground. And in not ten minutes before that, we saw at least 10-15 storm chasers drive to it. I'm really afraid that people that died or really got hurt. People were in their cars. They were trying to be -- trying to be storm watchers. Could be just thrill seekers out, trying to do this and got, really, too close to it.

Then, all of the sudden, the storm did move across I-30, like 35, 44. And people were stuck on those highways. The traffic was just tremendous. I have never, ever in my life seen traffic like this, other than Atlanta on a normal Friday, but not when there's a tornado event coming where we've been telling people for days get to your safe place. Get to your home, get to somebody else's home and stay there.

People were on the road, trying to get out of the way. From what we understand, some of the people were told, get out of the way. This is a very big storm. Get out of the way. So they got in their cars, and they drove. All of a sudden, when they drove, there's no place to go. The roads were completely jammed. We saw five lanes going one way. It looked like an evacuation for Hurricane Hugo.

It was -- it was something I can't even describe, other than what I just said. So...

COOPER: Chad...

MYERS: ... all of these cars were on the roadway, and then a wind event came or the tornado came over the top of them, and these people were stuck in their cars, being pelted by hail and obviously, the tornado. We don't know what the total damage is until we wake up tomorrow. We see flying around in a helicopter because it's going to be sketchy tonight.

COOPER: And Chad, one of the things I found interesting, the highway patrol came in earlier, interview, was saying if you are stuck in the highway and you can't get off -- and that was their first point, which was try to get off the highway, head south, head east. But if you are stuck and a tornado is coming directly for where you are on the highway, get out of your vehicle, try to get to embankment, something low and just lay to the ground.

I guess that makes sense, but it surprised me, the idea of getting out of your vehicle. But I guess the vehicle certainly, from what we've seen, is no protection.

MYERS: Yes, you saw those vehicles, Anderson, when you were at the Moore tornado. You saw what happened to the car when a large tornado hit it. And we're not talking about a hundred miles per hour storm that spins the car around or something. We're talking about a large, this could have been a maxi tornado, EF-4 or 5 tornado. That potential was always there. It was a large tornado on the ground west of Oklahoma City. Picking up a car, smashing it to pieces and not allowing any space inside to the occupants that were there. The roof comes down. It comes all the way down on the seat. The seat is crushed, and there is no place left for the occupant in that car.

That's why state patrols says you must get out of the car. If you see a tornado coming, you must get out of the car. They didn't see if you have hail hitting your car, you must get out of the car. They said if you know a tornado is on its way, you must get out of the way; you must get out of the car. The car is a dangerous place to be.

COOPER: It is obviously a situation we're still trying to assess and authorities are still trying to assess. The full scope of this darkness makes it all the more difficult for first responders, getting those highways, first of all, cleared, even though the worst of the storms have passed. Just the sheer volume of traffic, bumper to bumper in a lot of those places, with those overturned vehicles. Police weren't able to respond in some cases to some of those vehicles. Now they're going to be able to, even though there is severe rain, heavy flooding in some areas.

CNN's Samantha Mohr is tracking the storms from Atlanta for us. She joins us now.

I know there's a lot of people in Missouri who feel that they're getting short-tripped in terms of the focus on the coverage. We've been looking at Oklahoma so much. So how big a threat right now do people in the St. Louis area, elsewhere in Missouri phase (ph)?

SAMANTHA MOHR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now, it's like the worst has passed through St. Louis. So of course, we're still concerned about the neighborhoods east out of town, all the suburbs out here along I-64. We still have a severe thunderstorm warning in place on this line.

But, boy, those storms were really something as they roared through just about an hour and a half ago. And they were moving at a very fast pace, at around 55 miles per hour. We had reports of damage there in Earth City (ph). Thanks goodness, we didn't have any reports of injuries, miraculously. They even closed St. Louis Airport for a time as this line moved on through. So thank goodness, things are looking better here.

Along I-70, though, we still do have a tornado warning. So neighborhoods further out, further east of town, they're going to have to stay apprised of the developing weather there. But as far as St. Louis is concerned, things are improving there for sure.

So that's some very, very good news. And then as far as Oklahoma City is concerned, this line has been here now for about six hours. Looking much less impressive now. The tornado threat is over, but we still have that threat for straight-line winds with a lot of debris around and the damage here. And flooding continuing ongoing here. So we have flood watches and flood warnings all across Oklahoma City area. We have those tunnels in downtown Oklahoma City reportedly flooded, the pedestrian tunnels.

So it is going to be a very long night here as the rain just continues to come down in Moore, in Norman and over into Shawnee.

COOPER: And as you pointed out, it's the flooding that often kills people in the wake of something like this.

MOHR: Yes, flooding is the No. 1 weather killer here. And we do have the flash flood warnings in place, Chickasha, Meeker (ph), up to El Reno, where we saw the first tornadoes form along I-70 there, over into Oklahoma City and Norman.

Because as you noticed it was that big, long line of training storms here, these super-cell thunderstorms. And that's why we see so much flooding in the Oklahoma City area.

But it hasn't been limited to Oklahoma City. All across central and northeastern Oklahoma, stretching over into Arkansas and Missouri, on up into Iowa, where they haven't had rain for about the past week and a half. Very heavy rain. We have flash flood warnings marked here in the red. All paralleling the interstate going on up into St. Louis. And so widespread flooding, and, like we said, it does kill more people than any other weather entity.

So do be careful traveling anywhere across the plains where we have seen this heavy rain, because that flooding threat is ongoing. And it's imminent.

COOPER: Do we know -- do we know how long these rains are going to continue in Oklahoma? Because again, it is hampering these first responders and police and law enforcement.

MOHR: It sure is. I think we're going to see improvement in the Oklahoma City area downtown, probably within the next 30 minutes to an hour as these cells are weakening and sliding to the south.

It's going to be a little bit longer for Norman to dry up here. They probably have a good hour or two left of rain, at least. Stretching over into Shawnee, they'll likely see some improvement here. Things are starting to lighten up where they're at. And then the cities of Asher and further south. They're going to continue to see the rain for a while, this whole line kind of moves to the south.

But it is weakening very slowly. It blew up out of nowhere, really. And we knew it was coming, but it seemed to materialize from, like Chad said, a single cloud to 60,000 feet in just about 20 or 30 minutes. So really exploded. And now it's just very slow to go away.

COOPER: We're going to check in with you a little bit later on. We want to bring in storm chaser Brandon Sullivan.

Brandon, where are you and what kind of stuff have you seen in the last hour?

BRANDON SULLIVAN, STORM CHASER (via phone): Right now, I'm back home in Norman, Oklahoma. Fortunately, most of the tornadoes threat around here is gone. And we did have some really strong winds come through and some hail a while ago. But mostly just some light rain now as things have moved off to the east.

COOPER: I'm wondering if you were able to get a sense of how bad the roads were, because we've heard so many stories about I-35, I-40.

SULLIVAN: Yes. I-35 was completely gridlocked. Even smaller roads trying to get to I-35 were completely gridlocked, with people trying to flee town. In both directions, which was kind of surprising. But it was really dangerous if you were -- if you were stuck there.

COOPER: It -- it looks just dreadful and obviously, still for law enforcement, it is a big hassle, the situation on the roads.

Brandon, appreciate talking to you.

We're going to take a short break, and we'll be right back. We have more continuing coverage.


COOPER: Earlier, I talked to storm chaser Rick Timmer, who was in the middle of one of the storms. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: I don't know if you can hear me. Where are you now? What are you seeing?

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Hey, is this Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, go ahead, Reed.

TIMMER: We had the fastest tornado that we went right near El Reno. We've got vehicles rolled. We were pulling injured people out of vehicles south of El Reno. Union City may have been hit. A tornado emergency down around Oklahoma City. And I'm reporting from KFOR in Oklahoma City for Mike Morgan. There's a tornado emergency.

We're close in on the south, west side of it. And we've got trees and power lines down. Intercepted the tornado in our armored vehicle, and it ripped the hood off. The hood got ripped off and taken away. We've just got a bare engine and odometer (ph) left.

We're just trying to get ahead of this thing to keep people warned in Oklahoma City. We're on the north side of the airport. Near the airport.


COOPER: Read that statement from police in Oklahoma City who were very concerned about the volume of calls they're getting and the difficulty they're having responding to all those calls. A lot of people, they say, trapped in vehicles with rising flood waters.

Earlier, in the 8 p.m. hour, 8 p.m. East Coast time, I spoke with Oklahoma Highway Patrol -- an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper. And I want to play that for you, because you really get a sense just -- you can hear it in her voice how concerned she is about the situation on all of these vehicles on I-35 and I-40.

Her name is Betsy Randolph.


COOPER: Trooper Randolph, what's the situation? What kind of reports are you getting? I just saw one saying that there are multiple tractor trailers overturned or vehicles overturned on I-40?

TROOPER BETSY RANDOLPH, OKLAHOMA HIGHWAY PATROL (via phone): ... on I-40 at 410, heading south. I'm sorry, say that again?

COOPER: Yes, Trooper Randolph, what's the situation on I-40? I understand things are at a standoff and you have multiple vehicles overturned?

RANDOLPH: We do. This stretches to Tinker all the way back to El Reno. The entire metropolitan area, Interstate 35 is at a standstill. We are desperately asking people to abandon Interstate 40 at this time. This storm is moving east. So if you're on -- if you're on Interstate 40 east of the Oklahoma City metro area, we ask you to get off of the interstate, go south, very far south, even further south than I-240. We're asking folks to get off I-40 at this time.

If you're on Interstate 35, you're in standstill traffic as welcoming into the metro. And that's from Norman all the way up to the Dallas junction or I-40.

So we ask folks to get off the interstate. Please play attention. The weather is treacherous right now. The roads are treacherous. We've got multiple crashes on I-40, injuries, trying to get transportation for people that are injured to the hospital.

So we're asking people please, get off the interstate and seek shelter at this time.

COOPER: So both Interstate 35 and also Interstate 40, if you are on either of those, you're advising people to try to get off that road as soon as possible and head east of Oklahoma City?

RANDOLPH: That is correct. East and south.

COOPER: Do you have a -- how easy is it for people right now to get off of those interstates?

RANDOLPH: I haven't even been able to get to that location, so I can't tell you how easy it is. From listening to just the traffic with my fellow troopers in the Oklahoma City metro area, I would say that we're in a desperate situation. And it's dire right now. People have to get off the interstate.

COOPER: Trooper Mohr [SIC], I appreciate that.


COOPER: Samantha Mohr is tracking the storms for us from Atlanta. She joins me now -- excuse me, let's go to Chad Myers, instead.

Chad, in terms of rain, we're still looking at what? Another half hour or so in the Oklahoma City area?

MYERS: Yes, you know, Anderson, these storms still are building a little bit farther to the back, and running over the same track as the storm did just previously a half hour ago.

And Samantha called it the training effect. You think about a freight train. One car goes on top of the same place the prior car went on. It's on a track. Well, these storms seem like they're on a track, as well.

And now we have reports, Doppler radar indicated, as well, between six and eight inches of rainfall have fallen since 5 p.m. this afternoon when all of this started.

Remember, at 4:20 in the afternoon, the skies were still clear. We were driving on I-40 West, out toward El Reno. It was about as far as we wanted to go, because we knew they were going to develop there. We parked our car. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. There's a couple of cumulus clouds. And 20 minutes later, these storms were 50,000 feet and higher. That's ten miles high in about 20 minutes. And they just developed so quickly. There was so much humidity in the air. The humidity all fell out as pure rain, and that rain now has caused flash flooding across the entire Oklahoma City metro area, especially west metro, El Reno and Yukon, Mustang, back into Oklahoma city, southwest city, also down into Dell City itself and northern Moore. A lot of water going. It's a pretty flat place.


MYERS: Water doesn't drain off very quickly in Oklahoma.

COOPER: Yes, and that's something we're watching very closely right now and are going to be watching all evening long. Chad, I'll check back with you in a moment.

I want to bring in Jeff Rainsford. He's the chief of staff for the mayor of St. Louis.

What's the situation in St. Louis now? What's -- what have you seen over the last hour or so?

JEFF RAINSFORD, CHIEF OF STAFF FOR ST. LOUIS MAYOR (via phone): It was a whopper of a storm but fortunately, in the central city, the city of St. Louis and in the larger county, St. Louis County, we have not had any major damage. Nothing, you know, like what you saw in Oklahoma recently. And we've had no significant injuries.

The biggest damage, the greatest disruption we've had is out at our airport, Lambert Airport. Lambert Airport is currently closed. It got hit with a, you know, was kind of at -- in the center part of the storm, and three out buildings. There's two terminals there. Minor damage to the terminals, but the roofs collapsed on three out buildings. In addition, the security fence may have suffered some damage.

We have no injuries there. The folks inside the terminal, there was no major damage there, and we have no major injuries there. However, there is debris on the air field, and there may be damage to the security fence. So, right now, we're going around and trying to assess the damage of the security fence.

Once we've cleared the debris from the runway, from the runways on the airfield, and once we have either fixed the damage to the security fence or determined that the security fence is fine, then the airport will reopen. But for the moment, the airport is closed.

Other than that, we have about 800 people without power in the city. I called my counterpart in St. Louis County. I think he's got about 60,000 people without power. We have localized flooding. Our fire department did have to rescue about five cars on the one particular street in the northern part of the city. They got everybody out OK. So, so far, all of the assessments are in the city of St. Louis and in our larger suburb, St. Louis County, no catastrophic damage and no major injuries and no casualties, yet.

COOPER: That's certainly great news. And Jeff, I don't know if they have power at the airport, but if they do, no doubt a lot of right there right now are watching us on CNN. Is it likely that flights will be coming in or out of that airport this evening? I mean, if you are stuck at the airport right now, should they be trying to figure out a way to get, you know, a hotel or get home?

RAINSFORD: The answer is -- is yes and no. They do have power out at the airport. And I asked our airport director within the last 15 minutes, and she -- she thought they would reopen the airport tonight.

However, some flights already have been diverted, and if your flight has been diverted, even if the airport reopens, you're either not going to be able to get out or obviously, you're on that diverted flight. If you're here in St. Louis, and you're waiting for somebody to come in, they're not going to get in. So as is the case so often with a disrupted schedule but not a wiped-out schedule, you're going to need to check with your carrier.

COOPER: All right, OK. Jeff, appreciate the update and am glad, you know, it was not as bad as it could have been, because I know a lot of folks are very concerned, given the power of the storms, the whopper of a storm that hit St. Louis.

We're just getting new video in now, shot by a storm chaser named Brandon Sullivan just outside Oklahoma City. He is on the phone with me, as well. Want to watch the video.

Brandon, what is it we're looking at?

Actually, let's watch the video before we -- let's just watch the video.




COOPER: Brandon Sullivan joins me now. Brandon, as we're watching this video, I mean, I see the windshield there just got -- just got crushed. What was that debris flying around? That could have been really serious.

SULLIVAN: Yes, you know, the tornado is actually behind us in the video. The tornado destroyed a barn and that's what you see there in the video being hurled at us. You know, it was a really scary situation. And, you know, it definitely could have ended -- ended pretty badly. We just definitely got caught, caught in a bad situation.

COOPER: Where was this -- where was this videotaped? And how close was the tornado to you, behind you?

SULLIVAN: This was videotaped just northwest of Union City, Oklahoma. It's just west of Oklahoma City on I-40.

The tornado, when we're originally filming it in the very beginning, was probably a half mile to a mile west of us. We, you know, when the tornado got close, we began to move south and get out of the path. But there was a dramatic amount of chasers and other storm chasers on the road and local people. They were blocking the road and we weren't able to get south very fast.

And the tornado is probably still a quarter mile or a half mile from us, and we were getting hit with this debris, that it was just so strong that it had such strong wind associated with it.

COOPER: That's amazing, that a quarter to a half mile away, it's still kicking up this kind of a debris field. It's -- it's amazing to see the power of this thing.

SULLIVAN: Yes, I mean, it was very clear from this morning and even, you know, a couple days ago that today had the potential to be a very significant tornado day. We knew that strong, violent tornados were possible.

You know, that's what played out; the storms rapidly erupted this afternoon west of Oklahoma City. And after they got organized, they started producing strong tornadoes.

COOPER: It looked toward the end of that video that -- it looked like somebody was out on the road. Was that somebody you were with, or was it safe to be outside the vehicle at that point?

SULLIVAN: Definitely not. Someone -- somebody flew past us there near the end of the video. I'm not sure -- not sure who it was; don't know the situation. But you know, it was definitely not safe at all to be out in your car, especially if there were flying debris.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, that can easily -- those kind of airborne projectiles can easily kill somebody.

There were reports of one fatality in Union City or near Union City. That came to us earlier. We haven't been able to get any further confirmation on it. That person was said to have died in their vehicle.

So again, this is just an example of this video, which is the first time I'm seeing it. It really gives you a sense, Brandon, of the power of this storm even from a distance, a quarter to half a mile away. I appreciate you showing it to us. It really gives you a sense of what it's like with some of the dangers out there being on the road, Samantha.

And again, we're still trying to assess what the situation right now on I-35, I-40 is. Because that had been a huge concern of the governor and law enforcement now, trying to respond to the number of calls that they've been getting even over the last hour or so. MOHR: Yes. I mean, I can't imagine being stuck in traffic, on the interstate as these powerful tornados bear down on you. I mean, it must have really been terrifying for a lot of these people. And many vehicles overturned and damages. So by the time we get to tomorrow, we'll have a much better idea of the extent of the damage.

But right now -- and this is the same line of storms we have been watching since about 6 p.m. local time there. They started popping up around that time. And as that particularly dangerous situation was issued by the SBC and a lot of folks were saying, "But there's nothing on the radar. It can't be a big deal." And then that explosion of severe thunderstorms that led to the tornado outbreak.

And now this is what is left as -- still are seeing some very heavy rain here, where you see the orange and you see the yellow. Those rainfall rates are around an inch or two inches per hour. We've already had around 3-5 inches of these storms tracking one right after another.

So they're dropping a lot of heavy rain, and everyone moves right in over it. So we're seeing torrential amounts of rain, flooding in the tunnels, pedestrian tunnels in Oklahoma City downtown. And just widespread flooding, flash flood warnings here, marked in red stretching from Oklahoma City all the way in to St. Louis.

And we've had flooding in Iowa all week. So we're going to continue to see flooding concerns as we head into tomorrow, due to all this widespread rainfall. The ground is saturated. It just cannot hold any more.

And, you know, Oklahoma city was not the only tornado game in town today. That line of destructive severe thunderstorms with some confirmed tornadoes moving through the St. Louis area. And things now looking much quieter here, but we still have some tornado watches in place. So we're still going to have to watch things carefully. Because we're still seeing some damaging winds, some large hail. A lot of lightning out there.

COOPER: Yes. Samantha, there have been -- people, you know, have been saying there was a tornado drought up until a short -- you know, a week or two ago. Now all of a sudden, there's been a huge uptick.

How much longer does this season go on for?

MOHR: Well, I mean, potentially, it could go on well into summer. And a lot of times, we have a fall tornado season, if you will, as well.

So we're just really getting cranked up here. And the reason why we did have such a delayed season or a tornado drought is because it was such a cool spring. It was a cold winter and a cool spring, and it took a while for us to really heat up.

Boy, once we did -- I know we were saying about a month ago when folks were asking, why haven't we had more tornadoes this year? It's like it doesn't necessarily forecast that we're going to have a lean season just because we start out slowly. And boy, we have proven that in the past 10 days, with these explosive tornado outbreaks that we've seen.

So even if you have a slow start, you can catch up very quickly, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, listen, I appreciate all you have done.

That does it for this edition of 360. CNN is staying live throughout the night. Wolf Blitzer picks up our coverage next -- Wolf.