Tornado kills 2, Stitt expands declaration

The Oklahoman

EL RENO (TNS) — Gov. Kevin Stitt visited El Reno on Monday just 36 hours after a tornado killed two and injured dozens more.

During his tour, Stitt took a call from President Donald Trump.

“(Trump) said his thoughts and prayers are with El Reno,” Stitt said.

Trump was in Japan when he called Stitt’s cellphone.

Stitt toured areas damaged by the tornado and met with first responders and city officials who have been on site since Saturday.

“I’ve been so impressed with this team and what they have done,” Stitt said, with local officials standing by him as he spoke.

El Reno Mayor Matt White praised his city staff for their response.

“Our community is one of the best,” White said.

White said tornado victims remain hospitalized Monday. He said 29 injured people were taken to hospitals, ranging from fair to critical condition.

“There’s nothing like when your boots are on the ground and you can see that devastation in person,” Stitt said. “I know we’ve got people fighting for their lives right now at OU Medical center.”

A tornado hit a motel, mobile home park and other businesses around 10:30 p.m. Saturday in El Reno. The National Weather Service gave an EF3 rating, which indicates wind speeds up to 145 mph.

Feet away from what could be considered the new shoreline of Lake El Reno, two men spent part of their Friday morning talking about how much the lake had grown in recent days.

As the waves whipped in the wind, Benny Hinds said the water’s the highest it’s ever been since the lake was created in the 1960s.

Mike Hoefler, 68, agreed, saying the last time he’d seen the lake so swollen would have been at least 15 years ago.

A lifelong resident of the Canadian County community, Hinds said recent storms would have completely flooded El Reno if the lake wasn’t around to take on the excess water.

Even so, El Reno was among areas in central Oklahoma hit hardest by floodwaters earlier this week. Both directions of Interstate 40 were shut down Tuesday because of flooding, which also led to about two dozen water rescues by local firefighters.

By Friday it was hard to tell how dire the situation had been, save for standing water in fields and yards and places where the asphalt had been ripped up and carried away into ditches along county roads.

In other parts of the state, signs of flooding were more visible, including in eastern Oklahoma where roads remained closed and towns have been evacuated.

Nearly 1,100 residents in the Tulsa area have been forced to evacuate due to flooding, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Residents of Fort Gibson and residents of low-lying areas in Wagoner County, near the Arkansas and Verdigris rivers, were under voluntary evacuation recommendations.

Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt extended a state of emergency from 66 Oklahoma counties to the entire state.

Parts of Logan County had some of the worst flooding in the Oklahoma City area, most notable was the community of Twin Lakes, near Cimarron City. Located next to the usually tranquil Cimarron River, heavy rains brought the river to new heights, creating rapids and hastening erosion along the banks, destroying at least five homes on Wednesday as they were pulled into the water.

On Friday, Lori Dahlem, a volunteer firefighter in Twin Lakes, said the number of homes that residents would not be coming back to had risen to eight.

Dahlem said the river has gone up and down in recent days and continues to flow “pretty hard.”

Although residents in the area weren’t forced to evacuate, Dahlem said there were two options.

Dahlem said she and other firefighters are worried about forecasts of more rain northwest of the area that would feed back into the river, adding that residents are not out of the woods yet.