At least one person was killed, and multiple people are missing after tornadoes hit Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas late Friday, damaging homes and knocking out power for thousands as officials launch search and rescue efforts.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt issued an emergency declaration on Saturday for Bryan, Choctaw, LeFlore and McCurtain Counties after damaging tornadoes blew through the state.
“The state stands ready to send all the help, support, and resources southeastern Oklahoma needs to recover and rebuild from this devastating storm. Oklahomans are strong and resilient. We will build back these homes and businesses,” Stitt said in a statement.
On Saturday morning, Stitt toured the city of Idabel in McCurtain County, in southeastern Oklahoma, which suffered significant storm damage.
The governor said more than 100 homes and businesses were destroyed due to the tornado and called the situation “heartbreaking” in a tweet.
“I will declare a state of emergency in affected counties to ensure these communities have support and resources from the state. Pray for all those affected,” Stitt said in a tweet.
The string of tornadoes has killed at least one person, and the governor identified him as a 90-year-old man in Idabel.
“What I saw was Oklahomans coming together. The storm went through last night, but they were already out, helping each other. We’re clearing limbs and debris,” Stitt said in a video message.
McCurtain County emergency manager Cody McDaniel said on Friday there were “multiple missing people.”
Late Friday, authorities were trying to determine the extent of damages and injuries, McDaniel said, adding, “It’s not good.”
Gov. Stitt said search and rescue teams, along with generators, had been forwarded to the Idabel area, and he added there was “additional flash flooding in some areas.”
In Texas, near the state’s border with Oklahoma, at least 50 homes were damaged or destroyed in Lamar County as of Friday evening, the sheriff’s office said.
Plus, more than 20,000 homes and businesses were without power across Arkansas, Louisiana, southeastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas as of Saturday evening, according to Poweroutage.us.
Tornado warnings had been in effect in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri Friday night, meaning tornadoes were reported to be on the ground or indicated by weather radar. The weather service recommends residents in warning areas to move to a safe place like a basement or interior room.
A preliminary accounting Friday evening from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center shows nine tornadoes formed in Texas, four in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma.
Overnight tornadoes can be particularly dangerous because they can be hard to see as they move quickly through an area, and it’s also more challenging to ensure residents are warned during those hours.
Most of the reported Texas tornadoes occurred along the Red River border with Oklahoma, with widespread damage reported in two counties.
The National Weather Service confirmed late Friday a tornado moving 45 mph was detected over the city of Wrightsville in Pulaski County, Arkansas, just south of Little Rock.
The number of tornadoes recorded will likely increase Saturday, and the intensity of each one will not be known until local National Weather Service offices conduct damage surveys, which may take several days.
Tornado and severe thunderstorm watches for the region lasted until early Saturday morning.
Lamar County officials declared a disaster after at least 10 people were injured when a tornado tore through the area, according to a news release from the county’s sheriff’s office. No deaths have been reported.
Two of those injured suffered critical injuries, the sheriff’s office said. Earlier Friday, a first responder was injured during the storms in the county and underwent surgery, County Constable Steven Hill told CNN.
“There has been quite a bit of damage and some injuries,” Lamar County Constable Travis Rhodes told CNN Friday night.
In nearby Hopkins County, at least four houses were damaged Friday, according to the county’s sheriff’s office.
Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma, a Choctaw County woman was injured by a falling tree as she was trying to get to a storm shelter, Lewis Collins, a volunteer at the Choctaw Office of Emergency Management, told CNN. It’s unclear whether a tornado had occurred in the area.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security is urging residents to report storm damage online to help coordinate their response.