By Alonzo Adams
EL RENO, Okla. (Reuters) – Rescue workers on Sunday searched for survivors in the rubble left by a tornado that devastated parts of a small community near Oklahoma City, killing two people, injuring more than two dozen and leaving hundreds homeless, officials said.
The tornado that hit El Reno on Saturday night was the latest in a barrage of violent weather that is expected to continue after pounding the Central Plains states last week with deadly tornadoes, high winds, drenching thunderstorms and widespread flooding.
In addition to the two fatalities, 29 people suffered minor to critical injuries in the El Reno twister and hundreds more were displaced, the city’s mayor said.
“It’s a very trying time for us but we’re going to get through it,” a sometimes emotional Mayor Matt White told reporters on Sunday. “There are several hundred people affected by this. People have absolutely lost everything.”
Rescue workers searched the debris field that had been a mobile home park and an Americas Best Value Inn motor lodge where the tornado did its worst damage in the community about 25 miles (40 km) west of Oklahoma City.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Norman, Oklahoma, classified the tornado, which cut a 2.2-mile (3.5 km) path, as an EF3, meaning its rotating winds ranged from 136 to 165 miles per hour (219 to 266 km per hour). It initially estimated its strength at 111 to 135 mph (179 to 217 kph).
El Reno was among several areas in Oklahoma and Missouri to be hit with heavy rains and river flooding last week, with local media reporting that first responders had made some two dozen boat rescues.
Forecasters expect a moderate risk of more tornadoes and flooding in the central states on Sunday.
“The ground is pretty saturated so it doesn’t take a whole lot of rain to get some additional flooding,” said NWS meteorologist Mark Chenard at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park.
The weather pattern that has set off violent storms and flooding from the Texas Panhandle north to Iowa will remain in place for at least the next three or four days, he said.
“There could be a brief break but the pattern still looks like it remains favorable for some type of thunderstorm activity across the central part of the country pretty much through the week,” said Chenard.
At least seven people were killed by storms last week.
(Reporting by Alonzo Adams; Additional reporting and writing by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Trott)