Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A powerful late-spring storm system unleashed fierce winds on Oklahoma, causing property damage, electric service disruption and even a fire that led briefly to evacuations in a small town.

   The only injuries reported were to a trucker whose rig blew over and to a firefighter who was hurt as he helped crews battle a fire that began when strong winds knocked power lines down onto a wheat field in Gotebo in southwestern Oklahoma, authorities said.

   About 20,000 homes and businesses were without power Friday morning in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and other communities in western and central Oklahoma, utility officials said. Several thousand more customers in Altus were also without power, but officials there did not have a firm estimate.

   U.S. 62, a major highway through Altus was closed after winds brought down power poles and scattered debris onto the highway, Altus Emergency Management Director Lloyd Colston said.

   Most of the damage occurred on the southern and eastern sides of the city, Colston said.

   "This is a critical situation. City and utility crews are working hard to restore power. Citizens need to be patient and conserve water and food because there are no functioning restaurants in Altus," he said.

   Trees and power lines littered roads in and out of the Blue Ridge housing addition and roof damage was done to many homes, the emergency management agency reported.

   Some residents reported seeing funnel clouds before the storm hit, but Colston said he wasn't sure if a tornado or straight-line winds caused the damage. State emergency management officials reported an 87 mph gust in Altus.

   "We cannot rule out a tornado yet, neither can we say it was. It will take assessment teams from the National Weather Service to tell us" what it was, Colston said.

   On Interstate 40 in western Oklahoma, high winds blew over three tractor-trailer rigs in separate incidents near Foss, Clinton and east of Weatherford, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

   One driver was hospitalized, said Trooper Betsy Randolph, but his condition was not released.

   In Custer County, high winds flipped three airplanes over at the Clinton airport and blew over six barns in the town, state officials said. A travel trailer also was toppled by high winds on Interstate 40, officials said.

   In Beckham County, 70 mph winds are being blamed for roof damage to buildings and to residences in the county, Emergency Management Director Lonnie Risenhoover said.

   To the north in Alfalfa County, several homes and nearly a dozen barns sustained roof damage in Cherokee, and barn damage was reported in Driftwood, officials said.

   After Altus, the strongest wind gust reported was 82 mph south of Cordell in Washita County, according to the weather service. Other high wind gusts included 80 mph near Blair and Okarche; 75 mph near Anadarko and Butler; 74 mph near Medford; 71 mph near Bessie and 70 mph near Orienta.

   In Gotebo, at least one house was destroyed and several other burned in the blaze that began about 2 p.m.

   James Wooten stood in shock outside his destroyed home for hours while firefighters struggled to keep the fire from reaching his neighbors' house just a few yards away.

   Wooten said the home wasn't insured and he and his family had just purchased it.

   "I put in a new roof, new plumbing, new electrical wiring, and we were moving in in about a month," he said. "I'm choked up, and my house is burned to the ground, but I'm OK," Wooten told the Lawton Constitution.

   One more home was destroyed, seven others had minor damage and 50 more smoke damage in the blaze, which charred 350 acres before crews contained it about 8 p.m. Residents were allowed to return shortly thereafter.

Storm time line:


At 9:30 p.m., Edmond officials said the city's utility company had restored power to about half of its 1,500 customers without power. The remaining customers could be without power until midnight as crews work on two hazardous poles in the Fairfield addition. Street crews were en route to clear a tree that was blocking a lane of traffic near Air Depot and Sorghum Mill roads.

At 9 p.m., Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. officials said they have a dozen extra  crews in addition to company crews to work on the outages.

At 8 p.m., a tractor trailer blew over at the Bar S food plant in Altus. A woman driver was trapped. Her condition was not immediately available. A plant official said a large portion of a plant wall collapsed. Damage also was reported at several Altus buildings.

At 7:30 p.m., Custer County sheriff's office reported downed power lines and tree limbs. Winds damaged a building's roof about five miles west of Clinton, a dispatcher said.

At 7:20 p.m., the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported US Highway 64 was closed from State Highway 132 to State Highway 38 due to downed power lines.

At 5:45 p.m., downed power lines in Clinton caused several fires including a house fire, police said. Helena Police Chief Jim Dikes says 8 to 10 inch tree limbs are down around town. Authorities are working to clear the limbs from the roads. Dikes also said Carmen, Goltry, Helena, Jet and Cherokee are without powers.