Powerful EF3 tornado kills 2, injures 29 in Oklahoma town recovering from flooding

John Bacon and Kirk A. Bado

A powerful EF3 tornado killed at least two people, destroyed a motel and devastated a mobile home park in the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno overnight as severe weather continued to threaten the nation's middle section Sunday.

Twenty-nine people were injured, some critically, and a search and rescue effort was underway in areas reduced to rubble, El Reno Mayor Matt White said Sunday. He said language barriers and other issues made the number of people unaccounted for unclear.

"It's a pretty devastating sight," White said. "It is very traumatic. We are all hands on deck."

The National Weather Service rated the tornado as an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, about 75 yards wide at its widest point and on the ground for 2.2 miles. An EF3 tornado can drive winds of up to 165 mph.

The Midwest has been hammered by scores of tornadoes and heavy storms in recent days, leaving at least nine dead and a trail of damage from high winds and flooding. And the weather pattern isn't expected to change soon.

"The overall weather pattern that has been in place across the U.S. will continue early this week, which will bring more rounds of severe weather to the Plains," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rathbun said.

Authorities respond after a deadly storm moved through the area in El Reno, Okla., Sunday, May 26, 2019.

Saturday's tornado was spawned by a powerful storm system rolling through the state. The tornado cranked up at about 10:28 pm and lasted only four minutes, the weather service said. White said tornado sirens were sounded at 10:27 p.m.

 The American Budget Value Inn was destroyed, and images at the scene showed emergency crews sifting through the rubble after part of the motel's second story collapsed into a pile of debris.

Mobile homes in the Skyview Estates mobile home park adjacent to the motel were damaged, as was part of a nearby car dealership, White said.

The scene was "horrific," he said. "Decimated." 

Elton Garrison, 32, said his parents called him from Skyview after the storm and said they were trapped in their home with two of his children, 9 and 12. Garrison, who lives less than a mile away, arrived to see another trailer sitting on top of his parents' home.

Garrison went to the home and was able to clear enough debris to free the family.

“My main emotion was fear. I couldn’t get them out of there quick enough.”

He said he had heard the sirens but thought little of it.

“We hear them all the time here, so it didn’t seem like a big deal," Garrison said. "I heard a lot of rain with the wind. But when it kinda got calm all of a sudden, that’s when it didn’t feel right.”

The weather service's Storm Prediction Center warned that a moderate risk for severe thunderstorms will continue Sunday evening across the central high plains. Conditions are expected to weaken overnight, but wind gusts may pose a threat as the storm moves toward the middle Missouri Valley. 

And more could be coming: Forecasters warned that conditions are ripe for more severe weather at least through month's end.

Meteorologists are predicting residents along parts of the Arkansas River will see the worst flooding in recorded history this week. The river near Fort Smith on Sunday surpassed a crest set in 1945. 

In El Reno, Saturday's tornado came just days after the town was hit by widespread flooding.

"Pray for our community," White said. "We've been through a lot lately."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Debris lies on the ground at a motel after a deadly storm moved though the area in El Reno, Okla., Sunday, May 26, 2019.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Powerful EF3 tornado kills 2, injures 29 in Oklahoma town recovering from flooding