OKLAHOMA CITY – An apparent tornado near midtown Tulsa early Sunday injured more than a dozen people, including two with life-threatening injuries, knocked out power to thousands of customers, heavily damaged businesses and blew debris through the streets, leaving a “Pet Smart” sign suspended around power lines.
No deaths were reported following the storm that struck shortly after 1 a.m., according to city of Tulsa spokeswoman Kim Meloy.
Emergency Medical Services Authority spokeswoman Kelli Bruer said the ambulance company transported a total of 13 people to area hospitals, eight from a TGI Fridays restaurant, four from a Whataburger restaurant, and one person who was in the area.
One of the most severely injured was in TGI Fridays and the other was inside the Whataburger, Bruer said.
The timing of the storm was fortunate, according to city of Tulsa spokeswoman Kim Meloy, because hundreds, if not thousands of people were in the area only hours earlier.
“It’s a highly commercial area with a lot of people normally in there. There’s a mall, there’s a movie theater, a TGI Fridays,” Meloy said. The area also includes some industrial sites.
The estimated one-square-mile area remained blocked off Sunday morning while crews worked to remove the debris, Meloy said.
Some of the damaged power poles leaned precariously over roadways, with power lines dangling to the ground, and forced the closing of Interstate 244 for about two hours immediately after the storm.
More than 11,000 customers were without power at one point. More than 3,900 remained without electricity late Sunday morning, according to Public Service Company of Oklahoma.
National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Jankowski said preliminary reports indicate a tornado, but it could be Monday before surveyors complete their investigation and there is no preliminary estimate of the storm’s strength.
Tornadoes are generally associated with spring months, but Jankowski said they can occur any time.
“I wouldn’t say outrageously rare, but it is uncommon,” to see an August tornado, Jankowski said.
Jankowski said the storm system moved out of the Tulsa area into southeastern Oklahoma, with potentially heavy rainfall creating a threat of flooding through Monday and possible wind gusts of up to 60 mph.