OKLAHOMA CITY — Tornadoes rolled in from the prairie and slammed Oklahoma City and its suburbs on Friday, killing a mother and baby and crumbling cars and semitrailer trucks along a major interstate.
The broad storm hit during the evening rush hour, causing havoc on Interstate 40, a major artery connecting suburbs east and west of the city. To the south, winds approaching 80 mph were forecast for Moore, where a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado killed 24 people on May 20.
Floodwaters up to 4 feet deep hampered rescue attempts, and frequent lightning roiled the skies well after the main threat had passed to the east.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said troopers found the bodies of a woman and an infant near their vehicle. Randolph said it was not known if the woman was driving into the storm when it hit around 7 p.m. Friday.
Emergency officials said numerous injuries were reported in the area along I-40, and Randolph said there were toppled and wrecked cars littering the area. Troopers requested a number of ambulances at I-40 near Yukon, west of Oklahoma City.
"We're scrambling around," said Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for the local ambulance agency.
Standing water was several feet deep, and downtown Oklahoma City looked more like a hurricane had gone through than a tornado.
Tornado warnings were also posted Friday night near Tulsa and near St. Louis.
In Oklahoma, storm chasers with cameras in their cars transmitted video showing a number of funnels dropping from the supercell thunderstorm as it passed south of El Reno and into Oklahoma City just south of downtown. Police urged motorists to leave I-40 and seek a safe place.
At Will Rogers World Airport southwest of Oklahoma City, passengers were directed into underground tunnels and inbound and outbound flights were canceled.
Television cameras showed debris falling from the sky and power transformers being knocked out by high winds.
As the storm bore down on suburban Oklahoma City, Adrian Lillard, 28, of the Village went to the basement of her mother's office building with a friend, her nieces, nephews and two dogs.
"My brother's house was in Moore, so it makes you take more immediate action," Lillard said.
Well before Oklahoma's first thunderstorms fired up at late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman was already forecasting a violent evening. From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents were told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.
Forecasters warned of a "particularly dangerous situation," with ominous language about strong tornadoes and hail the size of grapefruits — 4 inches in diameter.
Flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas late Thursday and early Friday. Three others were missing in floods that followed 6 inches of rain in the rugged Ouachita Mountains near Y City, 125 miles west of Little Rock.
This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.