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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Continuing Live Coverage: OKC Metropolitan Area Not Out of Danger Yet; Five Confirmed Tornado Touchdowns in Oklahoma; Heavy Rains Bring Flooding Concerns to Already Damaged Areas
Aired June 1, 2013 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the tornadoes near Oklahoma City. I'm Natalie Allen.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. It's 4:00 a.m. here in the East Coast, 3:00 a.m. in Oklahoma City, and we will be live all morning long on CNN bringing you the very latest developments.
ALLEN: And we're getting developments every few minutes. The tornado danger has lessened for Oklahoma City. But the metropolitan area is not out of harm's way.
BLACKWELL: The National Weather Service tells us five tornadoes hit in and around Oklahoma City. That is a preliminary number. So it could change. Also, five people were killed. More than 70 injured. We're expecting that number possibly to change as well.
Now the storm system that spawned Friday's deadly tornadoes is unleashing staggering amounts of rain. A spokesperson for Oklahoma City says flooding is spread all across the metro area. You can see the rain pouring and the wind there live on your screen right now.
Now the storm dumped between eight and 11 inches of rain in a fairly short amount of time. The official says low-lying apartments are swamped, metro buses stranded. There's even water on the floor of city hall.
ALLEN: Well, these are images of one of a handful of tornadoes that touched down in Oklahoma. This one hit the town of he of El Reno just west of Oklahoma City. Also another twister hitting Union City. We have images reported by a group of storm chasers here, people who of course drive towards tornadoes. The full extent of Friday's storm damage and the flooding will of course become clear as soon as the sunrises, still a few hours away. But we have received incredible footage of what these people went through in the area.
BLACKWELL: And Oklahoma City has weathered more tornadoes. Right now it's trying to deal with the flooding.
And CNN's George Howell is near El Reno, Oklahoma, that's just west of Oklahoma City. Joins us now live. George, there's been a challenge for our crews, for first responders, for everyone who is out on the roads tonight to get through this standing water. Is it letting up at all there?
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, just further east of us in Oklahoma City, it is a different story. The rain continues tonight, Victor. A lot of heavy rain that we drove through to get to this particular location. And yes, it's a big problem. When you drive -- when you get off the highway, when you get on to those city streets, you can tell that the standing water is causing some problems for drivers.
But where we are right now, this is, you know, a scene that I'm sure we may see more of as we get light of day. But you can see this home, the front of the home, what happened to it as the tornado came through, I understand that these are pretty big properties out here. Several homes. But most of them are gone.
This is the one that we can see. We did go down the road, Victor, just a bit. And we can tell that the home just next to this one is gone. The home next to that is gone.
There's that as well. A lot of rain out here. It's a fluid situation. Where we are, though, we're getting a lot less of the rain. We get, you know, the lightning, you hear the thunder. You know, it's one of those things where these storms jut kind of park over the Oklahoma City area and they don't really move. And they grow. So that's what it's been like through the night.
BLACKWELL: I see there the spray paint that is everywhere when you go to one of these scenes. Where they cross off an X on the house to show how many people they've searched for, any pets inside the home and what they've found.
Tell us about the struggle tonight for first responders because we know from the Oklahoma City Police that their resources are strained. And the conditions there don't make it any easier. But they have to deal with what happened 10 or -- 10 or 12 days ago and tonight trying to do some water rescues, I understand.
HOWELL: Yes. And you know, I was talking about this a minute ago. The fluid situation. You've got this weather situation that is still in play. So these first responders, yes, we've seen several of them on the roads with lights and sirens at times going to different calls. We have heard those reports of water rescues in and around the Oklahoma City area.
And out here, what we're finding, again, less rain. But this is really where these big tornadoes, we know that at least five confirmed tornadoes that touched the ground, some of them came through this area.
Our own Chad Myers spotted a few of these tornadoes here in this El Reno area. And he tells us that, you know, he saw the storm kind go over the highway. We passed on Interstate 40. We saw this debris field and we saw, Victor, these semi-trucks that were just knocked over, you know, like they were boxes. It was quite a sight. And that's where we also saw first responders on the road to make sure the drivers went around those trucks.
It's really a mess out here, Victor. And, you know, I'm sure as we have light, we'll get a better assessment of what happened.
BLACKWELL: A little more than three hours from sunrise there in central Oklahoma.
George Howell, just south of El Reno, Oklahoma. And we'll check back with you, George. Thank you.
ALLEN: George has been moving around a lot throughout this evening bringing us the latest. We really appreciate that.
Let's get a look at the larger picture now. People in the region are dealing with thousands of people in the dark in Midwestern United States. Power is out for more than 212,000 homes and businesses.
Here's the breakdown for you. Missouri, 89,846 customers without power. Oklahoma has 86,204 outages. Illinois, more than 31,000. Arkansas about 3,500 and Kansas a little more than 1,000. And Indiana has about 500 without power.
BLACKWELL: As we've said, first responders in Oklahoma City especially, they have their hands full. Right now, they're assessing damage and trying to keep their citizens safe all in the driving rain and darkness.
A short time ago, I spoke with Lt. Jay Barnett from the Oklahoma City Police.
LT. JAY BARNETT, OKLAHOMA CITY POLICE: The injuries obviously we're getting a lot -- we are getting a lot of calls on injuries. We can only confirm actually one fatality in Oklahoma City proper. At this point we have recovered the -- the body of a 4-year-old child that was apparently seeking shelter with other family members. Possibly -- well, certainly as there's children and an adult in a storm ditch. And was swept away, which obviously, you know, deepens the severity of the incident exponentially.
So beyond that, we're receiving a lot of missing persons' calls. But we really don't know how many of those are potential victims. The missing persons' reports are not uncommon. And most of them are cleared within the first 24 hours after an event like this.
That said, obviously, the number of casualties would probably go up. We would expect that to go up in the next 24 hours. Hopefully not very much and hopefully not at all. But it certainly appears that it may.
ALLEN: And we've also been hearing, Jay, that due to the wild nature of these storms, our correspondents and the storm chasers were saying they had a hard time staying ahead of them and figuring out where they were going next. So that aspect of this storm system hamper all of the people you had out on the roads and we hear the horror stories of the traffic jams as well.
Well, the -- it's hard to know exactly why there was so much traffic out. I don't know, and certainly we're hearing stories about people that were trying to get away from the storms and certainly we had people out trying to watch the storms.
The instructions that, if you've grown up in Oklahoma, if you've been in Oklahoma for any period of time, what you know is that as the storms are bearing down, you never ever, ever want to be in a vehicle. It's simply one of the worst places that you can be when a -- when a tornado is approaching.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Again, the spokesman for Oklahoma City Police. We appreciate him hanging with us there a short while ago.
The tornado threat has passed now in Oklahoma City. Now, of course, authorities worried about flooding.
And Betsy Randolph from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol says there are other dangers as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETSY RANDOLPH, OKLAHOMA HIGHWAY PATROL: The congestion around the Oklahoma City metro area is great. We've got a lot of dangers, not just the rising water. We've had power lines down across the interstate, scattered across I-40 from El Reno into the Oklahoma City, even past Oklahoma City, out by Tinker Air Force Base. So we're asking folks, if you don't have to be out moving around right now, please don't.
And if you're already out, you know what a mess it is. Go ahead and exit the interstate, take those back roads and get back to wherever it is that you need to get to tonight. Some place safe hopefully, and hopefully some place you can listen and watch the weather. We've got a lot of stuff going on, we've got first responders that are out, that have been out all evening and probably will be out throughout the night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Let's get the latest on the U.S. storms now. We're joined by Pedram Javaheri.
Pedram, I know that there was a thunderstorm warning that was expected or scheduled to end at the top of the hour.
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes.
BLACKWELL: Did the National Weather Service extend that or did it let just die out? JAVAHERI: You know, across Oklahoma, there aren't any more. So they have actually expired. So no severe thunderstorm warnings across this entire state of Oklahoma. As you saw and you heard in George's live shot there, we still have active lightning strikes. We've seen heavy rainfall around Chandler on the I-44 corridor, and eventually to the south near Dustin, we're seeing some heavy rainfall. But by definition, severe thunderstorm, your winds have to exceed 58 miles per hour. That's not happening right now across Oklahoma.
And hailstones have to be greater than .75 of an inch in diameter. That's also not happening across Oklahoma. But right next door some entirely different story. Out in Arkansas, we do have a tornado warning in effect for at least another five or so minutes. Some nearly 1,000 people in the path of this storm system near, say, counties of Newton and Searcy, where we know the city of Hasty and also Pindall, St. Joe, Western Grove, all of them in the path of this storm system that is capable of producing a tornado. That being across portions of Arkansas.
And of course the lightning threat is there. The tremendous amount of rainfall that has come down, seeing some information out of St. Louis, that the Mississippi River that flows through St. Louis, the water levels they're cresting here and we expect them to crest in the next couple of days at 41 feet high. That is the fourth highest level since 1785. That's about 200-plus years they've kept data across this region. And never, never had this. Only four other times, three other times having seen data this high for water levels.
And it's remarkable because just a few weeks ago, a few months ago, we're talking about water shortage and the water levels being so low across the Mississippi and now we're seeing this amount of water come down impacting this region.
And again it looks like the rain could continue and taper off here by the early portion of the weekend out there -- guys.
ALLEN: What a difference a few days makes.
JAVAHERI: Absolutely. Yes.
ALLEN: All right. Thanks, Pedram.
Our continuing coverage continues right after this.
BLACKWELL: Up next, we'll hear from a local congressman. And he's going to tell us his reaction to this latest storm. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ALLEN: And welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the tornadoes near Oklahoma City. I'm Natalie Allen. BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. We are live bringing you the very latest developments. Details are coming in from our crews there in the field in Oklahoma. George Howell is there, Chad Myers has been there overnight. We're getting information from the first responders as well. And here's what we know right now.
ALLEN: Officials say at least five people died around Oklahoma City after a series of tornadoes touched down Friday evening. At last count, I believe it's five in the area. The storm system also injured 71 people as we know so far. Funnel clouds ripped up houses, threw cars and trucks from the road throughout the evening.
BLACKWELL: More than 50,000 homes and businesses there are without power around Oklahoma City alone. And authorities are now concerned about the flooding.
Now Friday was a bad day for Oklahoma. But not as bad as May 20th when an EF-5 tornado devastated the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. A few hours ago, Wolf Blitzer spoke with Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole.
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, power gone immediately, phones, everything like that, and literally torrential rain. I've been in touch with people by BlackBerry and cell phone. And they were keeping me warned. We had a tornado immediately to the north of here along I- 40. Another one south of here toward the Norman area, and then a third evidently east of here. Not obviously as severe as we had on May 20th. These weren't EF-5s but fierce enough and certainly really, really intense wind, lots of lightning. Probably got five or six inches of rain almost immediately.
I mean, we're clearly going to have major flooding problems. And then I can just -- I can walk to my door, which is close to I-35, 119th and Moore, and watch emergency vehicles both coming off I-35 proceeding west. So, you know, you kind of worry for a little bit about whether or not there's going to be a tornado. And then obviously, very serious and severe straight winds.
I don't know how high they were here. My guess would be, you know, in the neighborhood of around 60 miles an hour. Could have gone higher elsewhere. But they would -- you know, they would come and then all of a sudden this area was almost in the center of a lot of those activity.
It got very, very calm, no rain and then all of a sudden kicked off again. So, you know, obviously, been severe weather. We're still sitting here with no power, no telephones. Those sorts of things.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you have any sense of -- the casualties, those injured and worse?
COLE: Only what I've heard on the radio, Wolf. And the governor has been on. The Emergency Management people have been on. And the -- you know, the only thing I've heard and I have no official word that a couple of fatalities on I-40, very tragic. Evidently a mother and child. But I don't think we have the kind of mass casualties and injuries that we had on May 20th. We're going to have a lot of damage, lot of flooding and probably a lot of isolated people and a whole lot of power to restore. Evidently, about 70,000, 75,000 or so people with no power. About 60,000 of them in the Oklahoma City area. And many, many in the areas that were affected on May 20th.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Well, the full extent of the storm's damage will be more apparent once daylight arrives.
ALLEN: And this has been a tricky system today. Our correspondents who have been there have been talking all night and the morning about how they were having trouble staying ahead of it.
BLACKWELL: Yes. And can you imagine that cloud you just saw in the rearview mirror?
ALLEN: I cannot.
And just ahead, we're going to go back to just south of El Reno, an area that was hit by two tornadoes. Still got to get confirmation from the National Weather Service, but it's implied by the damage there. George Howell is in Oklahoma. We'll check in with him.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ALLEN: Well, again, we continue with our coverage of the tornadoes in and around Oklahoma City. I'm Natalie Allen.
BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. We will be live all morning long on CNN bringing you the very latest developments.
ALLEN: And here is the latest that we know on the storms. A series of tornadoes killed at least five people in and around Oklahoma City last evening, 71 people, we're told, are injured. First responders have been dealing with driving rains and, of course, darkness throughout the night, trying to figure out where debris is and the flooded roads. The twisters knocked out power to some 50,000 homes and businesses around Oklahoma City.
Officials have been asking residents to stay off the highways and the roads, of course, as they try to deal with a dangerous situation.
For more on the tornado damage, let's head back to our George Howell who is currently near El Reno, Oklahoma. That's west of Oklahoma City.
George, and we know that they got a direct hit from a tornado.
HOWELL: Yes. You know, and Natalie, good morning. You know, when we see what happened out here, it's hard to just imagine the force, the strength of this storm that came through, this tornado. Our Chad Myers was out here. He spotted the tornado in this area and we even saw where it crossed the highway.
There's a debris field across Interstate-40 and right in that location, you can see where these semis, they're still on the highway if you're passing toward the Amarillo area headed west. The semis are on the westbound side, knocked over. Just knocked over on the side of the road. You've got emergency officials there making sure that traffic goes around them.
Let's talk about what's happening right now in the Oklahoma City area. Right now, you still see rain parked over different parts of that area. And it is causing a major problem with standing water on the roads. We didn't see so much of a problem on the highway. And keep in mind shall we went very far south to Paul's Valley to get out of the way of the storm.
There's a story there I'll tell you in a moment. But, you know, we went down there, had to drive back into Oklahoma City in that driving rain and then got on Interstate-40 and headed this way. The highways are fine. Once you get off the highways that's where it's a problem. We've heard reports of water rescues, we know that there are a lot of emergency officials, you know, going through the work, who are responding to calls. It's a busy night out here and a fluid situation with the weather.
ALLEN: Yes. And as you were telling us earlier, George, you had quite a time. You and your crew. And we've heard it from others. Trying to stay ahead of this wild system that passed through the area. Tell us more about that.
HOWELL: Well, you know, a minute ago Victor said, you know, could you imagine seeing that black cloud in your rearview mirror? Yes.
Yes, we can imagine it. We saw it. It was one of those things where we took these precautions. We made sure to get out of the way of this storm well in advance of it coming into the Moore area where we were doing live shots earlier. And you know, we got on the road ahead of the traffic. But it was one of those things where this storm just continued to blossom and develop and move south and it continued to move south in our direction.
It was at least a half mile behind us. And yes, you know, I'm driving on the road, we're all going at a good, safe speed but you look back and you see the storm. Definitely unnerving. We were able to get out of the way as thousands of people were. You know, you have a few options. You can either drive out of the way, you can shelter in place or you can go underground. So, you know, a lot of people, you know, took the actions to protect themselves tonight.
ALLEN: I know it was a difficult time. And we're glad you're OK. And all of the people that we're talking about being stuck on the roads somehow got home hopefully.
Thanks so much, George, and to you and your crew for your hard work.
Well, one man who saw some of the tornadoes up close and in the rearview mirror like George was describing says he was expecting the storm to generate a monster tornado. Storm chaser Reed Timmer described to CNN what he saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Those multiple vortex tornadoes that you see there can be very intense on a small scale. So you'd see just a violent motion in there. And we saw some severe damage to some homes from south of El Reno east. I think Union City was hit really hard. And I'm hearing reports there were a few fatalities.
And it's a very rural area there just west of Oklahoma City as well. But we were tracking the storm for a while. And you could tell it was going to put down a monster tornado. It just kept spinning this wall cloud. But then those suction vortices would come straight down to the ground.
You can also see the upward motion, too. So it's not just the really violent horizontally rotating motion but also the updraft that caused some of that damage. And thankfully at that time of that video -- when that video was shot, there was open farmland. And it went further east, it caused damage. We saw some storm chasers and motorists that were thrown off the road. And we went out and pulled them out of their vehicles.
And it's just a disaster. A very violent tornado. And today was one of those days where you knew there was -- there were going to be strong tornadoes. And they just seemed to keep hitting Oklahoma. And a really eerie part of today was when we were chasing that weak rain- wrapped tornado. Thankfully this weakened as it moved through south Oklahoma City.
And we were actually dropped south, and we went through damage path of the EF-5 tornado just, what, 10 days ago, seven to 10 days ago. And I live actually two to three miles south of that damage path. So, you know, our thoughts and prayers definitely go out to the people here in Oklahoma City and south Oklahoma City and Moore because it's going to take years to rebuild.
I mean, it looks like a warzone up there still. This tornado took a hard turn and tornadoes that are this strong and you could see how volatile those suction vortices can be in that they don't have that predictable of a path. And scientifically also in terms of tornadoes, it's right near the ground, all those suction vortices.
It's a big mystery as to how fast the wind speed can get in those suction vortices. And some theories show that in a very small scale. The wind gusts could be 400 or 500 miles per hour. And so suction vortices are the reason why you have one house and it will sustain complete damage whereas the one next door will be left untouched.
And if we can better understand the wind speeds in those suction vortices, we can better build structures to withstand them. And that's how we build our armored vehicles with spikes and the hydraulics and the (INAUDIBLE) windows. So you can get up close and personal and use our instrumentation to try to measure some of the pressure falls and wind speed in those. And that's kind of an obsession of mine as a scientist and storm chaser is to get closer to those suction vortices and try to better understand them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Let's go to Pedram Javaheri now.
Pedram, I am just fascinated watching that video by how quickly those twisters form.
BLACKWELL: They dissipate and then just come back into that cone form again.
JAVAHERI: Yes. You know, it's so incredible because the base or top so muggy, so hot and humid out across this region. Temperatures in the mid 90s, Victor. I mean, just a few clouds.
This was the satellite perspective as of 5:00 p.m. Just a few scattered clouds across the state of Oklahoma and what we had just a few thousand feet above the service, so what's called a cap or an atmospheric inversion where a layer of warm, dry air is literally inhibiting these thunderstorms from pushing through and keeping them at bay.
Now by 5:00, eventually 6:00 and 7:00, thunderstorms strengthen and kind of akin to take a pot of boiling water and you start boiling it. You've got the lid on top of it and you start seeing the lid want to start shaking a little bit and moving around. That's what was happening in the atmosphere, the lid being the dry air aloft through upstairs and trying to keep the thunderstorms at bay.
Once the heat started building all the way to its maximum of about 95 degrees, these thunderstorms do break through that lid and eventually we saw that explosion of thunderstorms where so much rainfall and five reported tornadoes across this area. And just to think, 12 days ago of course an EF-5 comes through this region. And now we have five confirmed reports of tornadoes across this area.
So you take all that energy, thunderstorms like to take energy from one another. If there wasn't five, you potentially could have maybe one or two significant tornadoes across this area. So that's something to keep in mind as, yes, a lot of areas were scattered and there are a lot of damage perhaps in the next coming hours when the sun does rise about 6:16 or so local time out around Oklahoma City.
But you take a look, of course, that energy could have certainly been confined to the region of thunderstorms of finally, finally beginning to fall apart across this area.
Flood warnings there in effect for another hour or so across portions of Oklahoma City. We do have some flood warnings on into Missouri and into St. Louis. And you look at this, you see around Oklahoma City, the rainfall actually beginning to taper off. The heaviest of the rainfall now displaced well to the east. So we do have a few thunderstorms around OKC.
But the heaviest to the east. None of them severe. No tornado warnings at this hour to tell you about as well across this region. So it looks like finally Mother Nature giving folks a break across this area.
ALLEN: They'll appreciate that. You were saying that the sun was going to come out as well.
BLACKWELL: The sun comes up in a couple of hours. Three hours maybe.
ALLEN: It's not that too long and the sun will be out this afternoon because it -- the clouds are moving on. That's what I meant by that.
We've been talking to a lot of people who have weathered the storm earlier. Anderson Cooper spoke with Michael Townsend. He rode out the storm in a basement at the Will Rogers World Airport.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL TOWNSEND, STRANDED AT AIRPORT: Those pretty tense moments. Just trying to get everybody down in the tunnels. Everybody was (INAUDIBLE) from the parking garages, coming in from the terminal. It's a tunnel that's about 500 yards long and it connects the long parking garage to the terminal. And it just got pretty hot pretty fast down there. Everybody was trying to check the 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 garage where you could 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. 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 -- it was pretty tense.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I read there were as many as 1200 people in the airport at the time. Does that seem right to you?
TOWNSEND: Yes. That would be pretty close because that tunnel was pretty packed. And you know the airport or the terminal area is open now. They haven't opened up -- 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 -- and it's just torrential downpour right now. I mean, it hasn't stopped coming down for three hours 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, I mean, it just seems like getting anywhere in Oklahoma City right now, I mean, police are saying stay off the roads, there's flooding in a lot of areas that don't even normally see flooding.
TOWNSEND: Yes, I --
COOPER: Are you just spending 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, 11:00. We're on emergency power still. So I'm not sure what's going to happen. So we're going to hang out for a couple of hours. And if we don't get home, I'm living in Oklahoma anyway, so I mean, I'll try to get on the road and get back home the best I can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Well, a lot of the folks waiting will be getting home soon because we're told that flights will be resuming this morning even though the airport lost part of its roof to the storm.
BLACKWELL: Up next, we'll hear from a storm chaser who found himself head on with the tornado near Oklahoma City.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ALLEN: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the tornadoes that moved through Oklahoma City and are continuing on. I'm Natalie Allen.
BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Twenty-two minutes until the top of the hour. We'll be live all morning on CNN bringing you the very latest developments.
ALLEN: And we're following of course the deadly outbreak of tornadoes throughout the Midwest. And many people still under tornado watches, although most of the severe weather has left Oklahoma City now.
BLACKWELL: Now here's what we know. Officials tell us that at least five people died in and around Oklahoma City after the tornadoes touched down. It's Friday evening. That storm system injured 71 other people. Those numbers are expected to increase, unfortunately. Now, the unstoppable force of nature tore through homes and overturned trucks, tossed some vehicles from the road as well. ALLEN: More than 50,000 homes and businesses were without power throughout Oklahoma City. The Will Rogers World Airport also was without power. We are told, though, that the airport is going to reopen soon.
Six more states have also been hit by the storms, including the area around St. Louis, Missouri. Emergency officials tell us a total of some 212,000 homes and businesses are without power throughout the region.
Well, as you know, most people, of course, throughout this evening got away from the storms. But the storm chasers head right into them.
Brandon Sullivan is a storm chaser who had an experience even he might not want to repeat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRANDON SULLIVAN, STORM CHASER: We were just northwest of Union City, Oklahoma, it's west of Oklahoma City. You know, we could tell that a tornado was pretty imminent at any time. You know, a tornado formed then it became very large very fast. We eventually knew that it was time to go south. So we began moving south.
The tornado actually crosses maybe a half mile behind our car. But the inflow to tornado was so strong that it, you know, ripped a barn apart and began carrying debris across the road which you see on the video, you know, it smashes into our car.
So we basically had no choice but, you know, slow down and move very slowly as the debris, you know, came flying towards us.
My concern was, you know, I knew we weren't in the -- you know, in the tornadic circulation. We were in the inflow. So I really wasn't concerned about being picked up or carried away by the tornado. You know, my main concerns were obviously flying debris and, you know, possibly, you know, getting tipped over by the wind.
You know, those are my main concerns. I told everybody in the vehicle to duck down, you know, try to cover their eyes and just try to avoid the flying glass and we just had to wait it out there for about 30 seconds.
The tornado, like I said, it grew very large and it -- you know, it turned right. You know, it came right at us. You know, I would say that moment of the tornado coming right at us was probably even more scary than the debris actually hitting my car. At that point in time, when the debris is hitting the car, I knew that we were at least out of the tornadic circulation.
I -- you know, I wasn't too worried. I knew I was getting some damage to my car, but that was a lot better than being picked up and, you know, possibly flipped or carried away by the tornado.
We have the -- you know, the cameras on the front dash and the hood and we even have interior cameras. So we're really able to capture pretty much anything that happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: We've seen that video several times and still riveted every time. Storm chaser Brandon Sullivan there. He spoke with CNN a short time ago.
BLACKWELL: Let's get the latest on the storms and how they developed over the afternoon. We're joined by Pedram Javaheri.
Was this a storm system that gradually grew or was it one that just popped and the twisters were out of nowhere?
JAVAHERI: Yes, you know, probably the second part that you said. It literally just popped up between 5:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon. Eventually of course exceeding all the way until 7:00, 8:00 in the evening there. But we knew this was coming as far as the severe weather. We knew the ingredients were in place.
But the cap that really caps off the atmosphere and does not allow these thunderstorms to bubble through, and that's just the later of dry air aloft, was trying to keep these storms at bay. And once they popped up, and you see then stretch all the way out of Oklahoma into really the Ohio Valley.
It's a 500-mile area of thunderstorms. This shows you the vertical profile of them. Some of these storms just going from a fair weather cumulus cloud to a full blown thunderstorm of 60,000 feet in height.
So, you know, we're talking about pretty rapid expansion here and I'm sure our friends at NASA going to release some incredible satellite imagery of the day go on here of these storms just blossoming out of nowhere. And you see the main three states in the path of the storm. And 34 tornadoes being reported across this region, with five being reported across Oklahoma.
Now we know, because of so many coming down at a very similar time, the energy from those storms is all taken apart. So we think the strength of them are going to be somewhere between an EF-2 and EF-3. The EF-4s and 5s that we saw about 12 days ago unlikely with this storm system just because of the sheer number of tornadoes that were reported across this region.
And a month's worth of rainfall coming down across Oklahoma City as well. We know OKC averages about 4.5 or so inches of rainfall in the month of May. They picked up about six to seven inches around the city between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. so a remarkable amount of rainfall. Of course, Oklahoma, a very flat city and very flat state. And when the water comes down, unless the water stops, it is not going to drain properly.
And the river levels really tell the story because lock at this scene. That's in eight feet the river stage as we headed on into Friday morning. And eventually, by Friday evening into Friday night, it jumps up to 20 feet within those six hours of heavy rainfall. Again, this getting up to some of the highest folks had seen since the 1960s across Oklahoma City where, you know, parts of the city underwater this morning. So pretty impressive scene as far as water is concerned across the city.
BLACKWELL: And we'll learn more about the tornadoes as the National Weather Service gets on the ground and they start to assess the damage.
JAVAHERI: You bet.
ALLEN: So many people in Oklahoma are racing for cover Friday as the storms caught up with them. One of our producers was among them. Denise Quan was stuck in the Oklahoma City airport with about 1,000 others as the tornado struck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENISE QUAN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER (via telephone): It was a new experience for me. I have to tell you. I'm from southern California, so I'm kind of an earthquake girl as opposed to tornadoes. But I was sitting in the lounge waiting for my flight from Oklahoma City back to L.A., and all of a sudden the ticketing agent came on and said that the flight had been canceled.
Maybe three second later, sirens starting blaring inside the terminal and a voice came over the loud speaker saying please, everybody, evacuate down to the basement in the airport. So all the passengers that were waiting for their flights in the lounge proceeded down to the basement and it was really kind of a wide corridor that was maybe 25 feet wide. And it ran the length of the terminal. So it was pretty long. And they could fit a lot of people under there.
I think there were probably at least 1,000 people, if not more kind of taking cover in this area underneath the airport. But at one point, somebody came through with a bullhorn and made us all sit down and put our head between our knees. And shortly thereafter, the lights began to flicker. And we couldn't really hear anything just because of where we were on the ground.
But then the lights went dark for a few seconds and as I understand it later on. The old terminal lost power and it was switching over to generator. So that was the first tornado that passed through. Close by, it's not directly overhead the airport. But they made us wait down there for another 45 minutes to wait out a series of what they were calling alerts (ph). And so we were just down there and everybody was safe. Once they gave the all clear, I think they brought the airport employees out first. And then brought all of the passengers out. They had us wait in the lobby area near the ticketing, near the front of the airport as opposed to going back into the lounge.
The screening for security, that was down because there was no electricity. And they just had kind of the bare minimum of lights on.
I think people were trying to leave the airport but that was difficult because the roads were impassable, number one, and number two, if we were trying to rent a car, all the rental car agencies, their counters were dark. And they couldn't get into their computers any ways even if they wanted to pass out cars.
So they eventually opened up the lounge area where people wait generally to get on to the planes. And there was some minor damage in that area, too. But the flights had been canceled and they're just waiting to see what the damage to the runway and the airplanes are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Once again, our producer, Denise Quan, describing what it was like inside the airport.
BLACKWELL: Stay with us. We're going to speak with an official at the Will Rogers World Airport just after the break to find out if there's any damage there and if they're going to get planes off the ground at daylight. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the tornados in and around Oklahoma City. I'm Natalie Allen.
BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. We will be live all morning long on CNN bringing you the very latest developments.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here is the latest. The tornado danger has lessened for Oklahoma City. But the metropolitan area is not out of harm's way.
BLACKWELL: The storm system that spawned Friday's deadly tornadoes is now unleashing the staggering amounts of rain. A spokesperson for Oklahoma City says flooding is spread all across the metro area. The storm dumped between eight and 11 inches of rain in a fairly short amount of time. The official says low-lying apartments just swamped. Metro buses are stranded and there's even water on the floor of city hall.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The National Weather Service tells us five tornadoes hit in and around Oklahoma City. That is a preliminary number. Five people were killed. More than 7 0 injured. You're looking right here. Images of one of a handful of tornadoes that touched down in Oklahoma. This one to the town of El Reno, which is just west of Oklahoma City.
And also a twister hit union city in the same county. These images were recorded by a group of storm chasers. Of course, those who are always seeking out tornadoes and bring us amazing footage.
The full extent of Friday's storm damage and the flooding will become clear as soon as the sunrises, that's about 6:17 Central Time this morning.
BLACKWELL: I want to go to Karen Carney. She's the public affairs officer at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City.
Karen, it's good to have you. Can you tell us how many people you have there at the airport and when they'll be able to start the trip home?
KAREN CARNEY, WILL ROGERS AIRPORT SPOKESWOMAN: Well, we have about -- we're estimating between about 150 to 200 people that are still in the airport after we were cleared from our evacuation. So some of those -- you know, we had rental cars obviously went really quickly. Hotel rooms. We've got a couple of events going on in Oklahoma City as well as some first responders from the tornados we had last week.
So hopefully, you know, they will be able to get out tomorrow. But it's hard to say. We still -- the airport is open. However, the airlines are still assessing damage on some of the aircraft that were on the ground. They may or may -- you know, early morning departures have all been canceled. There's not going to be anybody going out then.
So as the day progresses, we'll just kind of have to see how it goes and how the airlines can get back on schedule. Unfortunately, it's our busiest time of the year. Summertime. And so flights are already pretty full.
BLACKWELL: CNN producer, Denise Quan just happened to be at the airport when you guys ended air travel there. And tell us about the moment you had to make the decision to evacuate, how many people you had there and I know power went to generator for a while. Is power back up now?
CARNEY: Yes. I mean, obviously we take warnings pretty seriously when we receive them from our local weather and the National Weather Service, so as we began watching this, we knew it was going to be difficult because it began on a Friday afternoon, the busiest time of the week, lots of people traveling. But as it started to move, we just had to make the decision to keep people safe.
And while we did not get a direct hit by a tornado, it -- certainly we had high winds of 80 -- about 80 miles an hour is what I've been told. And you know, we're just -- we're just grateful we were able to get everybody down there. We had -- also we had a lot of people, the airport sits on a main street that is filled with restaurants and hotels and so we had a lot of people that -- on that street that also came to the airport to shelter in place in our tunnel. So we had probably about 1500 people in -- in our tunnel.
BLACKWELL: All right. Karen Carney, a spokesperson for Will Rogers World Airport. Airport reopened but maybe a few hours until flights take off.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sounds like it.
BLACKWELL: There at the airport, still 100 to 150 people. Thank you for being with us overnight and into the morning as we continue to cover the tornadoes that hit Oklahoma.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There will be more right after this. Please stay with CNN.