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Continuing Coverage: Flooding Causes Additional Damage in Aftermath of Tornadoes;
Aired June 01, 2013 - 02:00 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: And welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the tornadoes near Oklahoma City. I'm Natalie Allen.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay. We will be live all night long here on CNN bring you the very latest developments. Here is what we know so far.
Tornadoes are terrifying attention guesses, but flooding often causes as much or more damage in the storm's way.
ALLEN: And that is the threat right now. That's what's going on in Oklahoma.
A spokeswoman for Oklahoma City just a short time ago told us that flooding is spread all across the metro area, the storm dumping between 8 and 11 inches of rain in a fairly short amount of time.
The official says low-lying apartments are swamped. Metro buses are stranded and there's water even on the floor of City Hall. Five people were killed in the storm and so far, as far as the number of injured, we are hearing that stands at 71.
SESAY: Well, let's get a first-hand account of the destruction In the Oklahoma City area. George Howell is there. He just made his way there.
George, describe what you are seeing, and the situation on the ground.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, we are seeing the sky line right now of Oklahoma City. And I can tell you that, you know, driving in on Interstate 35, the highway is smooth; it's free and clear. There is rain coming down, heavy rain in spots, but the drive in was not bad. It was fine.
But we do hear these reports of flooding, these reports of water rescues from our affiliates. We also understand at this point that five people are confirmed to have died in this storm. And we are still talking to officials. We will know a lot more when we see the light of day after the damage the storm caused.
You drive into Oklahoma City, again, you see those intermittent showers, then you get the (inaudible) hits of heavy, heavy rain. I can that this has subsided here in the city itself. But we're now -- we want to check out, as you mentioned a minute ago, the reports of flooding there in the city itself. We are going to see what the case is there now.
SESAY: And George, obviously, the word to all residents is don't get on the streets unless you have to.
How do you describe the flow of traffic on the streets?
Are people heeding that advice?
HOWELL: (Inaudible) into the streets right now on Western Avenue and that will take us closer into the city to see exactly what the case is on the streets. I can't say at this point. All I can talk about I-35, and now, Interstate 40. And I-40 also seems to be safe to passable, though again you will run into these heavy rain showers from time to time.
When you look at the radar, you can tell the storm, it is not the same storm that it was earlier. In fact, we're going to have to get off the phone because we are getting some heavy rain now. Not the same storm it was earlier but still a messy storm out here.
SESAY: Yes. I know that visibility is obviously difficult because it is dark and there's of course the rain coming down. But I'm wondering whether you can see flashing lights, whether you are seeing a large first responder presence there on the streets as you make your way into Oklahoma City?
HOWELL: Please repeat, Isha. Did you say stranded cars? Please repeat.
SESAY: No, I'm asking whether you are seeing first responders out on the streets as you make your way into Oklahoma City?
HOWELL: Absolutely, yes. We have seen a few. We've seen them with licensed fires (ph) going down the highway quickly, obviously, responding to different situations, right now on the highways. Again, it's just cars that are either headed back home; a lot of people did leave Oklahoma City. They're driving back.
But the traffic is not bad. And the weather, aside from heavy rain from time to time, is not bad.
SESAY: All right. Our George Howell, joining us there on the phone from Oklahoma City. The visibility is poor; it is dark, there is rain. So we're having all technical problem there. We're hearing clearly what you're saying and you're hearing me, but important to know that he is there and getting a firsthand view on the situation on the ground.
George, be safe. We're going to continue to check in with you.
ALLEN: And interesting, Isha, that George has covered hurricanes; yet he was saying he needed to get off the phone there because of the intense rain. So that kind of gives you an idea of what they are dealing with.
Let's get more about that now from Pedram Javaheri.
Pedram, you have been telling us about the fact that this is a serious rainmaker after the threat of tornadoes have passed.
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: So much energy has built up, Natalie, and back until about 5:00 pm, the temperatures across this area in the low to mid-90s, we are talking about 94, 95 degrees, all that fuel building up in the atmosphere, very little thunderstorm activity.
It's something called an atmospheric cap that sits up above these thunderstorms, dry air that sometimes inhibits these storms from really blossoming. These features were so strong, literally bursting through the cap that we had on the atmosphere. And all of a sudden, you had the energy dissipate over the next six to seven hours. And of course, hasn't dissipated much; it is shifting off to the east right now.
There is I-40. Notice the majority of the storm's riding just north of I-40 at this hour until you get towards, say, Dustin, east of Oklahoma City. That's where we have the heaviest rainfall, and have already seen estimates up to 6 to 8 inches of rainfall have come down across this area.
If you have ever been to Oklahoma, or Oklahoma City, really, flat as a pancake, much of it is. And the water is not going to drain very well, unless the rain stops. And of course it is not a third-world country; we have a great drainage system across much of the country, but water, when it comes down with this intensity, it's not going to go anywhere.
And you see the flood warnings, still in place here, indicated in the red. It goes right across Oklahoma City, about 50 miles of area underneath flood warnings.
And then you go to the north near Springfield, on into St. Louis. And notice once again, it follows right through the highways. So some of the most densely populated areas getting some of the heaviest rainfall across this region.
And 11 of the last 15 days we've seen rainfall across OKC. So this again is going to be a problem out there. And you take a look, St. Louis, still getting very heavy rainfall. Just east of it at least, and the pattern for severe thunderstorms, some are left in place.
But of course the discussion all comes back to the tornadoes that we saw just some 11, 12 days ago. We had the EF-5 that touched down across this region. But the National Weather Service releasing some preliminary tracks of the three tornadoes that were reported across the areas of Oklahoma City. And you can see one right there, go its way towards I-40 near El Reno.
We had another one, just north of Moore, by our estimates about 15 or so miles north of the previous damage tracks of Moore. So you bet, people are watching in Moore a couple weeks and seeing perhaps their neighborhood miss the storm. And then they see another one come in just within a few miles of it. A pretty scary sight out there, and a third one, coming down again just to the east of that. So three independent storms and tornadoes across this region.
And you see the satellite imagery here, the visible satellite imagery goes from 5:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon where you see the thunderstorms literally explode into the upper atmosphere.
We know Chad Myers was outside. And he was saying the scene outside were just a few fair weather cumulus clouds early in the afternoon, just a few globular clouds. And within a matter of two to three hours, blossoms to 50 miles across and goes up some 60,000 feet into the upper atmosphere. That's what turned the storm so violent.
It is going to -- eventually it's beginning to fan out across much of the state at this hour, guys.
ALLEN: All right. Thank you so much, Pedram. We will continue to talk with you. It has been amazing, the pictures that we have seen. And as you say, many states, not out of the woods yet. Thank you.
SESAY: It is approaching 10 minutes past 2:00 here on the East Coast; CNN is live throughout the night on this developing story. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now. He has been out in this dangerous weather all day. Chad is on a main roadway in Oklahoma, Interstate 40.
Chad, what is the latest?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it is raining again here. It's raining heavily and this is just exactly what they do not need, a place that's already picked up between 7 and 9 inches of rainfall. And it's just -- I've seen the weather radar just shows this rain now all the way along I-40, developing further.
Even though typically at nights, storms don't get stronger, this rain could rain all night long and train into the same area.
Now what does that word mean, train, the verb (inaudible)? I mean, it's when one storm moves right over the tracks of the last storms. It's almost like a boxcar. They moved over the tracks of the boxcar ahead of it, one storm after the other, moving right along the same train tracks, putting down significantly heavy rainfall and lots of flooding.
And this flooding will continue; now there is no place for this water to go that is coming down now. I don't know if you can hear it in the background, but the water hitting the windshield. I'm probably -- we're at now an inch and a half to two inches an hour at this rate. And so if this thing rains like this for another 30 minutes, that's another inch of water that will come down right here in places that are already flooding. This is going to be a tough day, a tough night and probably even a tough morning for the people if it is still raining.
We started out this afternoon, it was 92 degrees, very muggy, just one of those days when you step outside, and you go, really? Can it really be this wet outside? You can just feel it in the air, feel like you were breathing in the humidity. And then air went up straight up in the air, 50,000-60,000 feet. We had the tornadoes on the ground almost instantly.
Within about 45 minutes from when the storm started to go up, we had tornado warnings in Oklahoma. And they really didn't stop for much of the night, one storm after the other. But they were moving a little bit to the south.
In America, we expect these storms to travel a little bit to the north, like a northeasterly path. Well, the storms here today were traveling in a southeasterly path. So everyone who was anticipating the storms going one way, (inaudible) because the storms were actually going a different direction -- not an unusual direction; it's not totally rare.
But supercells do rotate and turn right at times. They are called right movers, but not for as long as this one did. It was all just trying to get to that Gulf of Mexico moisture.
We have more tornadoes in America than any other country in the world, and even any other continent, for that matter, because we have the Gulf of Mexico, very warm water to the south, like the Mediterranean.
But we also have big mountains to the west. That allows dry air to come down, and then we have the pulls to the north, where the cold air comes down across Canada, right down into the Plains, and all of those three things come together right in a place called Tornado Alley.
SESAY: Chad, you've talked about the rain. You've talked about the flooding. But talk to me about the winds here and the problems they pose right now.
MYERS: The winds?
SESAY: Yes, the winds.
MYERS: Yes, I don't really see anything when it comes to that. (Inaudible) thunderstorm warnings are over; the winds are done. The tornadoes are done. It is very hard to find tornado damage. We were just out in El Reno, talked to the El Reno Police Department. They said there's about two or three houses that are destroyed up here.
And then when we went by those houses, we could actually smell either natural gas or propane in the air. So there was enough damage to that home that there is gas leaks out there. That's always a big concern.
And we know that there are power lines down a lot. And some of these power lines are still live. You never want to go touch one or pick it up or try to move it, because you don't know when the power company's turned the power off.
Now there still are there are tens of thousands if not 100,000 people without power across parts of Central here, the Central Plains. But it is still going to be a bumpy night for some people, but because of the rainfall, because of the flooding, not because of severe thunderstorms from now on.
But at night, flooding is very hard to see. There were neighborhoods that we wanted to go to, but I said, no, we just can't go there. We're not going to drive into flood waters at night and see how deep that water might be.
SESAY: All right. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joining us there on the line. Chad, we do appreciate it. We will continue to check in with you, thank you.
Natalie, as we all know, it is dark there on the ground in Oklahoma; it is hard to get a full sense of the scale of the damage at the disaster. But we are beginning to get some details coming in to us here at CNN. They're beginning to paint a picture as to the amount of damage there that has been caused by the severe weather.
We are getting this information now from Canadian County, Oklahoma, it's coming to us by way of the county. Emergency management agency director, saying that several homes have been totally destroyed in Canadian County, giving us some more details, saying that a lot of damage to other structures, such as barns and sheds have also been affected by this weather.
Also another point to mention, a lot of downed power lines and trees on the roads. That information coming to us here at CNN. But once again they reiterate what we have been saying: they haven't got a firm count of how many homes have been totally destroyed. They will have a better estimate in the morning because, of course, there will be light. They will be able to see.
There is a power outage for many people, over 200,000 people, and it is dark, it is nighttime. So that is the situation there in Canadian County. Several homes totally destroyed as well as some barns and sheds. We're going to bring you more information as it comes into CNN as we continue our rolling coverage of the storm systems.
ALLEN: Also, confirming that tornadoes did touchdown in El Reno and Union City. So we'll be hearing more about those cities and what happened there.
Also ahead here in our continuing coverage, we will talk with an entertainment reporter, Denise Quan, who was one of the many stuck at the airport right now, it is shut down. And we'll talk with her right after this. Please stay with us.
ALLEN: And returning to our live breaking news coverage of the outbreak of tornadoes in Oklahoma, we're learning a lot more information as every hour ticks on. SESAY: Yes, indeed. In the last hour we heard the number of people injured in these storms in Oklahoma had risen to 71. Officials say at least five people died in and around Oklahoma City, after a tornado touched down Friday evening. The devastating funnels tore through homes; they overturned trucks and tossed vehicles from the road.
ALLEN: And the winds knocked out power to more than 50,000 homes and businesses in the Oklahoma City area. And the city's international airport also in the dark -- we are about to talk more about that.
Six more states have also been hit by the storms, emergency officials say a total of more than 212,000 homes and businesses are without power right now. Well, Oklahomans were racing for cover Friday as the storms caught up with them. We have heard a lot of horror stories about what went on on the roads.
CNN's Denise Quan was among them. Her story's a little different. She was stuck in the Oklahoma City airport as the tornadoes struck. And Denise joins us now.
Denise, tell us more about what you experienced in that airport. And you took some photos as well.
DENISE QUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. It was a new experience for me, I have to tell you. I am 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 cancelled.
Maybe three seconds later, sirens started blaring inside the terminal and a voice came over the loudspeaker, 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 temperatures.
So it was pretty long and it could fit a lot of people under there. I think there were probably at least a thousand people if not more kind of taking cover in this area underneath the airport.
But at some 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 underground.
But then the lights went dark for a few seconds. And as I understand it later on, the whole terminal lost power, and it was clicking over to generator.
So that was the first tornado that passed really close by us, not directly overhead the airport. But they made us wait down there for another 45 minutes, to wait out the series of what they were calling swirlers. 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 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 anyway, even if they wanted to pass out cars.
So they eventually opened up the lounge area, where people wait generally to get onto the planes. And there was some minor damage in that area, too, but the flights had been cancelled. And they're just waiting to see what damage to the runway and the airplanes are.
ALLEN: Right, since we don't know when the airport will be reopened. That is our producer, Denise Quan. We might want to mention you were in Oklahoma to produce a special on a benefit for the last victims and got caught up in these latest storms. We're glad you're OK.
Can't imagine what those 1,000 people went through, sitting thinking of what just happened in Oklahoma City, and everyone being told to put their heads between their knees and just wait and see what haps, because we know what happened to the hospital there.
And glad to know that the people weathered things just fine there in the airport. But we'll let you know when we hear when the airport's up and running. They're just going to have to wait and see when the flooding subsides.
SESAY: Yes, and just have to wait until daybreak when they can get a better view of the situation on the ground.
Our coverage continues. Up next, we'll hear from a storm chaser who was right in the path of the tornado. Stay with us.
SESAY: It is approaching 2:30 in the morning here on the East Coast of the United States. Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of those tornadoes that brought fresh chaos to parts of Oklahoma.
ALLEN: Yes, welcome back; Isha Sesay here with Natalie Allen. We are just getting new video of one of the areas that was hit by a tornado. This is, look at that, this is El Reno, Oklahoma, in Canadian County, El Reno just outside of Oklahoma City. And someone confirmed earlier, and you can certainly see it there; that it did get hit by a tornado, one in El Reno and another in Union City.
Now we have been told that five people have died in these series of tornadoes there in Oklahoma City and some 70 people injured. And right now as we have been telling you, they've been getting just a massive amount of rain, but my goodness, that is what the people experienced there in El Reno this evening in Oklahoma.
SESAY: We had got information fresh into CNN just a short time ago from the emergency management, the agency director there in Canadian County, who had told us, Natalie, that several homes had been totally destroyed in Canadian County, as well as damage to some barns and some other structures, but again, saying that it was dark.
They would be able to get a better sense of the situation and the scale of destruction once light comes in the morning.
ALLEN: Tornado system that you see right there has continued to move on. Many states are without power; the system is moving through Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Indiana. Emergency officials say a total of more than 200,000 homes and businesses are without power.
It is the dark of night.
ALLEN: It must be a scary situation for people that know that these storms are continuing to track across the Midwest region.
SESAY: Well, when you bear all of that in mind, when you see those pictures, though, on your screens and they really do just provoke so much terror, and then you hear that as opposed to fleeing from these kind of dangerous and destructive storms, some people actually run right into their paths. Brandon Sullivan is a storm chaser who had an experience even he might not want to repeat.
We spoke with him earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRANDON SULLIVAN, STORM CHASER: We were just northwest of Union City, Oklahoma; that's west of Oklahoma City. We could tell that a tornado was pretty imminent at any time. The tornado formed, and it became very large, very fast. We eventually knew 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 the tornado was so strong that it ripped the barn apart, and began carrying debris across the road, which you see in the video. It smashes into our car. So we basically had no choice but to slow down and move slowly as this debris came flying towards us.
My concern was I knew we weren't 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. My main concerns were obviously flying debris and possibly getting tipped over by the winds. But those were my main concerns.
I told everybody in the vehicle to duck down, try to cover their eyes and just try to avoid 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 turned right and it came right at us. 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 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 possibly swept or carried away by the tornado.
We have the cameras on the front dash, on the hood and we even had interior cameras. So we were able to capture pretty much anything that happens.
ALLEN: What a story there. And let's bring in Pedram Javaheri again from the Weather Center.
Pedram, hearing storm chasers talk about the fact that they quite didn't know what to do with this one, and just how ominous it was, it tells a lot.
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It does. When you have so many storms bearing down on you in just a matter of a few hours, it definitely makes it scary, because you have got one place you want to go, and then another storm is coming and another storm is right behind that. And that was the sort of day that set up across portions of Oklahoma.
And just to show you the amount of rainfall that we have touched on here in the past few hours, and showing you the radar perspective that was, the accumulated rainfall from 2:00 pm. And notice, not a single drop coming down. This is at 2:00 pm on Friday afternoon. And we put in motion, all the way until about 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 pm.
And you see the significant accumulations that come down right across the city, right across the I-40 corridor, where we had a lot of people stuck on the highway. And certainly the tornado threat was there. A lot of these storms were putting down tornadoes, but also the heavy rainfall itself slowing people down on the roadways.
And looking at the numbers, Oklahoma City, they get about four and a half inches of rainfall every single May on an average month. They picked up upwards of six maybe even more inches of rainfall across this area in the past six to seven hours. So a month's worth of rainfall coming down across this area.
And police officers in Oklahoma City saying parts of downtown are underneath water. And they're saying that even parts of downtown that typically don't flood even during flooding events are now beginning to flood. So the significance of it, perhaps, one of the wettest that we've seen and one of the largest floods we have seen across this area in decades.
And the river gauges kind of tell the tale as well, because, look at this. The bottom of the screen shows you the North Canadian River. This is within the city of Oklahoma City. And shows you the water level is at about eight feet all the way until Thursday. We had a little peak with heavy rainfall on Thursday; Friday morning, things quiet down.
Friday evening, look at it go up to nearly 20 feet. That is the water levels across that area. And the forecast is expected to come down, and now, Natalie and Isha, they are looking at the forecast, some good news across Oklahoma City because clouds will begin to part today about 9:00, 10:00 in the morning local time.
And mostly sunny skies by Saturday afternoon across Oklahoma City. But of course, a lot of water going to be on the ground.
ALLEN: All right. We'll take that one bright spot. I'm sure they will be glad to hear that, that they might have to be doing a lot of digging out tomorrow. Thank you, Pedram.
Well, we continue to watch the developments across the midsection of the U.S., much going on still.
SESAY: Yes, indeed. Tornadoes have rolled through several states. We are on top of it all. A live report from CNN's George Howell, is right after this break. Stay with us.
SESAY: Welcome back, everyone. Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the terrifying storm systems that have rolled through Oklahoma and parts of the U.S. Midwest. I am Isha Sesay.
ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen. We thank you for staying with us; we are here all night, going live for you as this system continues to move across the Midwest. For the second time in two weeks, as you well know now, tornadoes devastating parts of the Oklahoma City area.
SESAY: Friday night's storms killed at least five people, panicked residents rushed to find cover.
ALLEN: The tornado spawning weather system has for the most part moved across Oklahoma now, which remains under a state of emergency, following the May 20th tornado. We do know that a tornado touched down in El Reno, Oklahoma, outside of Oklahoma City, and right now, the storm system is threatening two other states, Missouri and Illinois.
The governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency and after several days of heavy rain, flooding, as we continue to hear, is a real danger. Missouri has been drenched by heavy rain.
SESAY: Yes, it certainly has. And forecasters are warning Illinois to brace for strong winds, damaging hail and the threat of more tornadoes. Those storms knocked out power to more 212,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Indiana.
ALLEN: Can you imagine all of the people that were trying to get out of harm's way in Oklahoma City. We are told by the city's spokesman, it was a very busy evening there. Part of the reason it was busy, athletes were in town for the Women's College World Series, and they were playing softball. Instead of continuing on a couple of games tonight, they all had to take cover in Oklahoma.
Julie Wrigley was there, watching. She joins us now on the phone from Oklahoma City.
And Julie, you were having dinner when you first got the first warning that something was going on from the weather? Take it from there for us.
JULIE WRIGLEY, OKC: Yes, the NCAA sent out an e-mail to me, advising that the games had been postponed because of the weather. And they would notify us when the games would begin. And so it's going to, hopefully, start again tomorrow, Saturday.
ALLEN: So once you heard that the weather was postponing it, when did you realize that you were under severe weather, Julie, and what did you do at that point? Did you head back to where you were staying?
Yes. We did. We knew that we weren't going to the game. So we did go back to our hotel. And as the weather got worse, the whole -- most of the people there seemed to be -- in the hotel, all were down in the lobby, watching the weather on the TV there in the lobby.
ALLEN: So did you hear sirens going off while you were in the hotel?
ALLEN: And what were you thinking at that time; Oklahoma City had just been ravaged by this deadly tornado, and there you are, getting caught up in another storm system. What were many of the people around you saying? What were you feeling?
WRIGLEY: Well, it was very hard to believe that it was hitting again so quickly after it hit before. I spoke to a lady who was from Moore, Oklahoma, whose home was lost in the tornado a few -- a week or so ago. And she couldn't believe it was coming back again.
ALLEN: And you --
WRIGLEY: (Inaudible) staying in this hotel.
ALLEN: Oh, that poor woman. She must have been quite scared.
You traveled from Arkansas and happened to be in Oklahoma when this happened, these, as you said, young women from many states, just happened to be there, right now when this happened, playing in the college world series.
And we have a picture now of them taking cover on our screen right now, Julie, and waiting this out. Apparently, it's somewhere -- I don't know if this was a hotel or if this was at a softball stadium, where they're waiting this out. But it has to be just a tough time that they have gone through this and I guess you are feeling some relief that perhaps everyone is OK.
What can you tell us about whether you are seeing any flooding around your hotel? What part of Oklahoma City are you in?
WRIGLEY: We are on the northern side; Northwest Expressway is where we are saying. It's raining again. It had stopped but it's raining and, of course, thunder and lightning. We do hear fire trucks go back and forth in front of our hotel.
ALLEN: Well, we are glad you are safe and that you've weathered this storm. And we certainly hope all of these women who've come into town get to play softball again tomorrow. We hear the sun's coming out in the afternoon. So maybe that will happen.
Julie Wrigley, talking to us from her hotel there in Oklahoma. We really appreciate that.
SESAY: Yes, you go off to play softball and you find yourself in the middle of this.
ALLEN: Now what you wanted.
SESAY: Not what you want. But we do want you to stay with us, stay here with CNN throughout the night as we continue our rolling coverage of these terrifying storms that have brought so much chaos and panic to parts of the U.S. Midwest. We'll be right back after a very quick break.
ALLEN: Welcome back to our continued breaking news coverage of these storms in Oklahoma that are moving across the Midwest.
And, Isha, we continue to get just amazing video and pictures of these terrifying, just terrifying clouds and the dark, ominous skies across Oklahoma.
SESAY: Absolutely, and they're showing our viewers some of them now. And you see the terror that was brought on by these images. Who wouldn't be scared when you see the skies like that, roiled up by such clouds? And you see the heavy rain, which is still troubling parts of Oklahoma. The big concern there on the ground right now is flooding, because that rain continues to come down.
And as we were speaking to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, it has nowhere to go. So the big concern is flooding, which is causing huge problems when it comes to the emergency response, those people that may be trapped, that need helps. It is hard to get to them because, A, it's dark; power is out in some places and that rain continues to come down.
Let's get a check on the situation on the ground now in Oklahoma. Let's bring in CNN's George Howell. He was right there on the ground after tornadoes destroyed much of Moore, Oklahoma, which was May 20th, and now, he is west of Oklahoma City in Canadian County, after another storm barreled through that state.
George, tell us about the situation where you are right now. HOWELL: Isha, we are at a point where we have certainly passed all the heavy rain. But I tell you this, if you look at this storm and you break it down into two different episodes, so to speak, the first was the tornadic activity earlier. And tonight it's just heavy rain.
What we've seen right now is the heavy rain back in Oklahoma City that is causing a lot of standing water. We pulled off to the side of the road went into the community, I believe, near Tucson (ph). And that is where, once we got off the road, you could tell that many of those roads were flooded.
So that is something that people will be dealing with as the storm continues to just rain over Oklahoma City. And again, as we get light of day, we'll have a better assessment of the damage caused by this storm. I can tell you driving through El Reno, I saw those overturned semis. These (inaudible) semis that were just tossed over, you know, like boxes.
And you could tell -- and I am assuming here, I am presuming that the storm passed perhaps over the highway because you could tell that there was just debris everywhere, a debris field over Interstate 40 at one point ,just by those tossed-over semis. This storm came through and it packed a punch. And as we get light of day, guys, we will have a better sense of the damage done here.
SESAY: George, one Canadian County official sent CNN some information about the condition on the ground in Canadian County, saying that there are a lot of downed power lines and trees on the roads.
Are you seeing that? Are you seeing crews on the ground trying to repair the situation?
HOWELL: Not at this point. But again, this is early on in our assessment. So perhaps in the next hour or so or the next half-hour, I'll have a different report for you. But again, you know, that it is a bit of caution that we're taking.
As you go into these areas, it's not light out here. It is dark. You can only go -- you should only go so far. And when you see those signs of downed power lines, that is the time to stop and pull back. We're moving about this as carefully as possible.
But there's definitely -- you can see the signs, even here in the dark, where this storm came through and ripped up a lot of stuff. Like I said, the debris field over Interstate 40 was quite interesting. And then you saw that place where the overturned semis were.
SESAY: Yes, it's still a dangerous situation there on the roads. George Howell, we ask you to be safe. We will continue to check in with you. Thank you so much, George.
ALLEN: And this video that you're seeing on your screen right now is the tornado that touched down in El Reno, Oklahoma, just outside of Oklahoma City. And storm chaser Reed Timmer (ph) spent much of today in El Reno. He joins us now by phone from Norman, Oklahoma. Reed (ph), tell us about your day and the pictures we're seeing on the screen are just really amazing. And you can these tornadoes that were coming together and coming down to the ground and back up again.
What can you tell us?
REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Yes, those are classic examples of suction vortices. It's a multiple vortex tornado. And it's transitioned into a half-mile-wide wedge tornado later on, which is the tornado that's wider than it is tall. And they are very dangerous, but those multiple vortex tornadoes that you see there can be very intense on a small scale.
(Inaudible) just the violent motion in there. And we saw some severe damage in some homes from south of El Reno, east; I think Union City was hit pretty hard. And hearing reports there were a few fatalities. And it's a very rural area there, just west of Oklahoma City as well.
But we are tracking the storm for a while, and you can tell it's going to put down a monster tornado. It just kept spinning this wall cloud and then those suction vortices would come straight down to the ground.
You could also see the upward motion, too, so it's got just the really violent horizontally rotating motion, but also the updraft that caused some of that damage. And things at that time that that video -- when that video was shot, it was on open farmland. But when 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 was just a disaster, very violent tornadoes. And today was one of those days where you knew there were going to be strong tornadoes and it just seemed to keep hitting Oklahoma. And a really eerie part of today was when we were chasing that weak rain-wrapped tornado. It was thankfully weak.
It weakened as it moved here south of Oklahoma City. And we were actually dropped south and went to the damage path of the EF-5 tornado just, what, 10 days ago, 7-10 days ago. And I live, actually, just two to three miles south of that damage path.
So our thoughts and prayers go out to the people here in Oklahoma City and south of Oklahoma City and Moore because this is going to take years to rebuild. I mean, it looks like war zone up there, so...
ALLEN: Absolutely. And as you're speaking -- and you're able to help us understand what we're seeing with this multiple vortex situation that you say is just incredible to watch these tornadoes being formed and bouncing around.
And you did say while you were going through the El Reno area, you rescued some people from their car. Can you tell us more about that?
TIMMER: Yes, well, thankfully they're -- they had minor lacerations and cuts. So they'll need stitches. But their vehicles that were rolled looked like it was a miracle that people survived. And this tornado took a hard turn.
And tornadoes that are this strong -- and you can 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 where those suction vortices -- it's a big mystery as to how fast the wind speeds can get in those suction vortices.
And some theories show that on a very scale, the wind gusts could be 400-500 mph. And it's those suction vortices are the reason why you have one house that will sustain complete damage, where as the one next door will be left untouched.
And if we can better understand the wind speeds in those suction vortices, then we can better build structures to withstand them.
And that's why we build our armored vehicles with the strikes and the hydraulics and the Lexan windows so we can up close and personal and use our instrumentation and try to measure some of the pressure falls and wind speeds in those. And that is kind of an obsession of mine as a scientist and storm chaser, is to get close to those suction vortices and try to better understand them.
ALLEN: Well, we are certainly a good idea of what happens with one right now with those pictures and, as you say, seeing the clouds going up as well.
We really appreciate your time and your video. Reed Timmer, joining us from Norman, Oklahoma. And again, he witnessed two tornadoes in Canadian County. One hit El Reno and Union City, west of Oklahoma City.
Let's go over to Pedram Javaheri now and Isha.
SESAY: Yes, indeed. It is approaching 3:00 am here on the U.S. East Coast
Pedram, what are you seeing?
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, the thunderstorms continue here across this region, and a 500-mile area of thunderstorms all morning, and really all evening into the morning hours, you take a look at the vertical profile of these thunderstorms, exiting Oklahoma, going all the way up really the I-40, eventually I-70 and I-44 corridors as it gets towards St. Louis.
The active weather has spawned at least 18 reports of tornadoes across much of the Midwest. And of course the three states in the path of it, being right out of Kansas into Oklahoma and eventually on into areas of Missouri. We know what is left of it is just a tremendous amount of rainfall, a month's worth of rainfall already coming down around Oklahoma City, where we have flood warnings in effect.
We expect that to expire here in the next couple of hours. The flood warnings out to the east continue as you head on towards St. Louis. And there's so much water on the ground, and you look at these storms, what we call train, like boxcars on a train, one storm after another. They continue to feed off each other. And you see them for hour after hour.
We have that linear feature, bringing in tremendous rainfall across I- 40 just north of Oklahoma. The officials out here, saying even flooding across areas that typically don't flood.
And you work your way towards the north, still seeing tremendous flooding, hundreds of miles away near St. Louis, where south of St. Louis, out towards Carbondale, eventually out towards Evansville, Indiana, on into Paducah, Kentucky.
So the storm continues to track to the east and in fact these storms will get to, say, New York City, Philadelphia and D.C., what is left of them at least as we head on into Sunday. A slight chance of severe weather even as far east as the eastern coast of the U.S. as these storms eventually get there in the next couple of days.
And we have some of those preliminary tornado tracks showing you where tornadoes touching down near El Reno and eventually crossing the I-40 corridor. And look at this secondary tornado. Literally it touches down on the interstate and continues on the interstate near Moore before it finally fades out.
And another tornado touches down north of Moore and continues out towards the interstate. So you are seeing why so many people are fearing this, because it kept going after densely populated areas and highways that people travel through.
ALLEN: Yes, we heard from a storm chaser just a short while ago that there was sheer panic, people going the wrong way on the emergency ramps and such to try to get out of harm's way.
SESAY: Yes, it was very, very scary, Pedram. You said yourself parts of Interstate 35 and 40 looked like a parking lot, I mean sheer panic out on the roads there in Oklahoma.
Pedram, we appreciate it. Thank you.
ALLEN: And we'll continue to keep you up to date on the latest that we are hearing. We continue to get more information in, more videos, as the night presses on. But right now, we're going to look at some of the other stories that we're watching in the headlines.
Four firefighters died fighting a fire in Houston Friday. It happened during a hotel fire when a wall collapsed. Houston's mayor says other firefighters tried to save their colleagues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR ANNISE PARKER, HOUSTON, TEXAS: It's going to go down in the history of the Houston Fire Department as the worst day in the history of the Houston Fire Department, the greatest loss of lives in the proud tradition of the Houston Fire Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: The dead firefighters include three men and one woman. SESAY: The FBI found, quote, "very low concentrations of ricin" on letters sent to President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Authorities in Texas have searched the home of a man who possibly is connected with those threatening letters. At least 10 letters contaminated with the poison have been sent to government officials in recent weeks.
ALLEN: A small plane crashed into an apartment building in Herndon, Virginia, early Friday. Two people in the plane and one person on the ground were injured. They did survive. They were taken to the hospital. Authorities say the plan just simply rain out of gas as the pilot was trying to land at a nearby airport when it hit the building.
SESAY: Well, Victor Blackwell and Natalie continue our coverage of the Oklahoma tornadoes after the break. We are live every hour.
ALLEN: It's been nice working with you, Isha.
We will have much more when we come back. Please stay with us.