By KEN MILLER and JAMIE STENGLE (Associated Press)
DALLAS (AP) — Crews scrambled Thursday to restore power to thousands of residents after tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma during another deadly U.S. spring storm, killing at least three people and damaging dozens of homes. .
A day after at least eight tornadoes tore through Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt said authorities were still assessing the scale of the destruction. He toured the aftermath in Shawnee, where almost every building at Oklahoma Baptist University showed damage. A home improvement store was destroyed, but several people who took refuge inside survived. Two long-term care facilities and a hospital in Shawnee were also damaged.
“The damage is unbelievable when you walk through it,” Stitt said after touring the city.
Stitt also visited the small town of Cole, where he said two people were killed and between 50 and 100 houses were damaged. Authorities said a third person who was injured had also died, but it was not immediately clear where that person was injured.
“There are definitely dozens of various injuries, from minor to fatal,” said Deputy Sheriff Scott Gibbons of McClain County, the county south of Oklahoma City where Cole is located.
Gibbons told television station KOCO that one victim in McClain County, where Cole is located, is a 66-year-old man.
Deadly storms this spring have killed dozens of people across a wide swath of the country, including one in March that spawned tornadoes and killed at least 32 people from Arkansas to Delaware. Days later, another tornado killed five people in Missouri.
Employees at a Shawnee pizzeria said they took refuge in the walk-in cooler, and when they emerged, parts of the roof and broken windows littered the parking lot.
“There was a lot of commotion. People were starting to get a little frenzied,” said Bekah Inman, general manager of Papa John’s Pizza in Shawnee, speaking to Oklahoma television station KOCO.
At Oklahoma Baptist University, sophomore Kennedy Houchin hid in a storm shelter with 30 other people. When he was finally able to leave safely after about two hours, he saw the devastation the tornadoes had left on campus and elsewhere in Shawnee: downed trees, overturned cars and holed-up buildings.
When he ran into his volleyball teammates on campus, they hugged. “It was a good time to see everyone and know that everyone was okay,” Houchin said.
After the storms, Stitt declared a state of emergency in five counties: Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie.
At the height of the storm, more than 34,000 power outages were reported, but that number had dwindled as of Thursday night to around 16,000, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Office of Homeland Security reported.
KFOR-TV reported that residents south of Oklahoma City said they were trapped in their dugouts. In Cole, two people escaped unharmed after riding out the storm in a culvert, the television station reported.
Miller reported from Jonesboro, Arkansas. Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed to this report.