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Trying to flee tornado by car proved deadly in Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY — It's a warning as familiar as a daily prayer for Tornado Alley residents: When a twister approaches, take shelter in a basement or low-level interior room or closet, away from windows and exterior walls.

But with the powerful devastation from the May 20 twister that killed 24 people and pummeled the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore still etched in their minds, many Oklahomans instead opted to flee Friday night when a violent tornado developed and headed toward the state's capital city.

It was a dangerous decision to make.

At least nine people were killed in Friday's storms, including a mother and her baby sucked out of their car as a deadly EF3 twister tore its way along a packed Interstate 40 near the town of El Reno, about 30 miles from Oklahoma City.

A 4-year-old boy died after being swept into the Oklahoma River on the south side of Oklahoma City, said police Lt. Jay Barnett. The boy and other family members had sought shelter in a drainage ditch.

More than 100 people were injured, most from punctures and lacerations from swirling debris, emergency officials reported.

Five tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City metro area, the National Weather Service said. None of the tornadoes were as powerful as the one that tore through much of Moore, a top-of-the-scale EF5.

Moore, 11 miles south of Oklahoma City, appeared to have been spared the kind of damage that was inflicted by the May 20 tornado, which destroyed an elementary school and killed 10 children.

As the tornadoes approached, interstates and roadways packed with rush-hour traffic quickly became parking lots as people tried to escape. Motorists were trapped in their vehicles — a place emergency officials say is one of the worst to be in a tornado.

"It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives," said Terri Black, 51, a teacher's assistant in Moore.

After seeing last month's tornado also turn homes into piles of splintered rubble, Black said she decided to try to outrun the storm. She quickly regretted it.

When she realized she was a sitting duck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Black turned around and found herself directly in the path of the storm.

"My car was actually lifted off the road and then set back down," Black said.

"I'll never do it again."

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said the roadways were congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents. "They had no place to go, and that's always a bad thing," she said.

Oklahoma wasn't the only state to see violent weather on Friday night. In Missouri, areas west of St. Louis received significant damage from an EF3 tornado that packed estimated winds of 150 mph. In St. Charles County, at least 71 homes were heavily damaged and 100 had slight to moderate damage, county spokeswoman Colene McEntee said.

Tens of thousands were without power, but only eight minor injuries were reported. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency.

Northeast of St. Louis and across the Mississippi, the city of Roxana in Illinois was hit by an EF3 tornado as well, but National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said it wasn't clear whether the damage in both states came from the same EF3 twister or separate ones.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Cars lie Saturday where they were tossed by a tornado in El Reno, Okla. At least nine people were killed in Friday’s storms.

Getty Images

Cars lie Saturday where they were tossed by a tornado in El Reno, Okla. At least nine people were killed in Friday’s storms.

Trying to flee tornado by car proved deadly in Okla. 06/01/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 2, 2013 12:22am]
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