QUAPAW, Okla. (AP) — Officials said Monday that a deadly twister that hit Quapaw the night before formed too quickly for a tornado warning to be issued or for warning sirens to be activated, giving residents little warning ahead of the devastation.
According to state emergency management officials, sirens usually are sounded once a tornado warning is issued for the county. But officials said the tornado that hit Quapaw, killing one person and sending six to the hospital, materialized so quickly on the radar that a warning was not issued in time.
Officials added that the sirens didn’t activate during or after the storm because it was damaged by the tornado.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin toured tornado-ravaged Quapaw on Monday, telling residents the state has issued an emergency declaration to kick-start cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
“We can begin the process of rebuilding in Quapaw,” she said.
One man, 68-year-old John L. Brown, of Baxter Springs, Kan., died when a concrete wall fell on his car, and six others were reportedly taken to hospitals with injuries. Fallin said the tornado that struck around 5:30 p.m. Sunday also destroyed Quapaw’s fire station and at least five businesses and other structures.
Quapaw Police Chief Gary Graham said about 60 structures sustained some damage. Authorities said the tornado that hit Quapaw, a town of about 900 residents, was a “bit of a strange anomaly” with the governor noting that tornado warnings had been not been issued at the time.
After hitting Quapaw, the twister continued north into Kansas and struck Baxter Springs, about 5 miles away. Cherokee County, Kan., emergency manager Jason Allison said 60 to 70 homes and 20 to 25 businesses were destroyed. No deaths were reported in Baxter Springs.
Bill Davis, a meteorologist in Springfield, Mo., said tornado sirens didn’t sound in Baxter Springs until right before the twister hit the town because of how quickly it formed.
“That’s what happened in Quapaw, too,” Davis said. “It’s that worst-case scenario where a tornado forms right in a populated area. It was within a minute of the warning.”
“That thing formed so rapidly,” Davis said. “We looked at one scan when that thing started, and it already had gone through Quapaw.”
John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe, said about 200 people had gone to a shelter there because they were aware of the forecast, even though the more serious tornado warning had not been issued.
“We get used to knowing what it looks like when it gets scary,” Berrey said. “Unfortunately we are pretty used to this kind of weather.”
Sharon “Dixie” Benfield, 55, was on the phone with her mother Sunday night when the wall caved in.
“I was in a state of shock,” she said. She was not injured.
Bill and Nancy Weddel were running to get to the safety of the bathroom when the tornado hit, sending glass and other debris flying.
“It was like it was coming after us — everything was exploding,” Nancy Weddel, 63, said.
Her 58-year-old husband said their plans will depend on what the insurance company covers.
“We are all OK. Shook up, but OK,” Nancy Weddel said. “It could have been worse. God just had his hand over us. He is what took care of us.”
Under Fallin’s executive order, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions to deliver materials and supplies to needed jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance.
The National Weather Service in Tulsa says on its Twitter account Monday morning that a survey crew is on its way to Quapaw to assess the damage intensity, path and more.
The director of the Storm Prediction Center, Russell Schneider, says the threat for intense storms will continue across the Gulf Coast on Tuesday and through the Carolinas on Wednesday, with strong tornadoes possible each afternoon and evening.
Bailey Elise McBride reported from Oklahoma City. Bill Draper reported from Kansas City, Mo.