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Possible tornadoes leave damage in state

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By SEAN MURPHY

Associated Press Writer

   OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Severe weather experts picked through debris and damage across northwest Oklahoma City on Thursday to determine whether tornadoes touched down briefly after thunderstorms rumbled across the state.

   Witnesses reported seeing tornadoes on the ground about 5 p.m. Wednesday 3 miles east of Yukon near Oklahoma Highway 66 and another at 5:11 p.m. 3 miles east of Wiley Post Airport in northwest Oklahoma City, said Ty Judd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

   "Those two reports are ones we can say with a fair amount of confidence that tornadoes did occur," Judd said. "They'll look at the damage and, based on that, they'll be able to tell how strong they were."

   Another tornado was reported near the southern Oklahoma town of Paoli, where a mobile home was picked off the ground with a woman and her son inside, said Garvin County Emergency Management Director Buck Pearson.

   "It picked the house up and moved it about 30 feet and slammed it down," Pearson said.

   The woman, Cindy Ward, suffered some broken toes and was bruised, but the boy was uninjured, Pearson said.

   Ward managed to get her son into an interior closet just before the storm hit the home. The two were covered with debris and a family member dug them out of the wreckage, Pearson said.

   "It's pretty spooky to be sitting there relying on the TV and then your house gets picked up while you're setting in it and nearly kills you," Pearson said.

   Because temperatures were cooler on Wednesday after heavy rainfall and there was not a lot of instability in the atmosphere, Judd said conditions were not ideal for tornado activity.

   "These weren't your classic severe weather event tornado conditions," he said, "But these things do happen. It's not all that out of the ordinary."

   The possible twister spun up over western Oklahoma County as severe thunderstorms packing powerful winds, hail and torrential rain moved through during the afternoon rush hour. At least one injury was reported when a woman broke her leg trying to get to a storm shelter in Bethany, authorities said.

   Shaydestiny Johnson, 16, and her grandmother rushed to the bathroom of their home at the Willow Cliff Apartments Wednesday evening when they saw the balcony patio fall.

   "You could feel the house shaking," Johnson told The Oklahoman. "Pictures were falling off the wall. I was shaking."

   Witnesses told police in the northwest Oklahoma City suburb that a tornado touched down briefly and toppled several trees before lifting back into the sky, said Ali Razavi, a spokesman for the Bethany Police Department.

   One of the trees hit a gas meter, spewing gas into the air and forcing the evacuation of about 50 residents. They were allowed to return to their homes after the gas was shut off, Razavi said.

   In Yukon, several trees were damaged and parts of a roof were blown off a home.

   The storm also impacted rush hour traffic in the area, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Betsy Randolph.

   She saw several vehicles make sudden stops on Interstate 35 when tornado sirens began sounding.

   "We've had a lot of fender benders in the metro, and I don't know if that's because folks are looking at the clouds or the rain is getting the best of them," Randolph said.

   High winds blew over a tractor-trailer along I-35 south of Goldsby, the OHP reported. The weather service said a 75-mph wind gust near there was recorded in Noble.

   Farther south in Garvin County, winds of an undetermined speed damaged a home five miles east of Paoli, the weather service said.

   As the storms raced eastward, tornado warnings were issued for at least a dozen counties, including Tulsa County, where a wall cloud was spotted over the high school in Bixby and tree damage was seen in south Tulsa, according to the weather service.

   Several buildings were damaged in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, including a storage building at Rhema Bible Training Center that sustained extensive roof damage, authorities said.

   Oklahoma Gas & Electric, the state's largest utility, reported more than 11,100 customers without power early Wednesday evening, 10,375 of which were in the Oklahoma City area.

   By early Thursday, the number was down to 289, all in Oklahoma City.

   Public Service Company of Oklahoma had about 3,000 outages at the peak of the storm, according to spokeswoman Andrea Chancellor, but the number had been reduced to about 1,000 Thursday morning.

   Service was expected to be restored by 9 a.m., Chancellor said.

   Ken Gallant, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman, said the storms were part of a strong storm system that moved out of the Rockies into the southern Plains. The tornadic storms followed an initial wave of severe weather that dumped more than 2 inches of rain on many parts of the state, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

   "It's that time of year," Gallant said.

   Oklahoma will get a short break from the rain and wind on Thursday, but there's a chance some storms could drift out of Kansas into northern sections of the state early Friday, Gallant said.

   More storms are possible on Saturday, he said.

   (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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