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Cleanup is underway after deadly tornadoes ripped across parts of Oklahoma

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This weekend, tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska. At least four people have died in Oklahoma, and the destruction was enormous, especially in the town of Sulphur, which is south of Oklahoma City. Anna Pope with member station KOSU was there and joins us now. Hi, Anna.

ANNA POPE, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So what did you see yesterday?

POPE: Yeah, before you even get into downtown, you see trees broken and uprooted. There's just a devastating amount of damage to homes and businesses. Buildings are razed, glass shattered, roofs caved in and power lines are strung across the street in some places. But some buildings are still standing, and workers like Bob Sanders were there to help board up windows to prevent further damage.

BOB SANDERS: Old friend of mine owns this, so I'm here to help them. And this lady's a real good friend with my uncle, so I'm going to help her - just down here to help.

POPE: So there were a handful of residents walking among the rubble. I spoke with two of them who were born in Sulphur. One wanted to see what happened to the historic downtown. You know, it's on the National Registry of Historic Places. And the other, a business owner, wanted to check on her property. It was in bad shape. This was their hometown, and the damage just shocked them.

CHANG: This town, Sulphur, it's also in the Chickasaw Nation, right? Like, how are tribal officials there responding to this disaster?

POPE: Well, Sulphur is a small town of about 5,000 people. The Chickasaw Nation Emergency Management and the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department have been working in Sulphur all weekend. George Jesse is the Nation's central region emergency manager, and he's been on the scene. He told me he only had hours of sleep when I talked to him.

GEORGE JESSE: So seeing how I can affect and bring somebody some type of closure during an event like this, just showing them, you know, little kindness, goes a long ways.

CHANG: What about other parts of the state? What do we know about the destruction there?

POPE: Significant damage has been reported after a line of storms ripped through most of the state. Sulphur experienced severe damage, and the National Weather Service reports another tornado in Marietta was on the ground for 27 miles with wind speeds up to 170 miles per hour. State officials have confirmed at least 100 injuries, too, and damage estimates are still unfolding. There were multiple tornadoes that ripped across the area. The National Weather Service says, as of today, they counted at least 22 in this weekend's tornado outbreak in Oklahoma.

CHANG: Wow.

POPE: Now, just in comparison, last year, we had a total of 74 tornadoes.

CHANG: Over the whole year - well, what's coming next in recovery efforts there?

POPE: Well, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said he has not seen this much destruction during his six years as governor and has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in 12 Oklahoma counties. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby released a statement saying the Nation is evaluating the extent of the damage and will continue to work with partners and help however it can. The American Red Cross of Oklahoma is there, too.

Students at Sulphur Public Schools are out of class following the storm. There's extensive water damage, and every school bus was damaged according to a letter from the district. Officials hope to be back in school by the end of the week and are working to confirm transportation for students.

CHANG: That is Anna Pope with member station KOSU. Thank you so much, Anna.

POPE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anna Pope
[Copyright 2024 KOSU]
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