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Woman Dies As Twisters Hit Again

May 5, 1999

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ People who fled neighborhoods that suffered the worst damage in Oklahoma’s deadliest tornadoes in five decades started returning today, many of them finding only rubble where their homes had stood.

Thousands of homes had been destroyed.

Police had kept the hardest-hit areas of southwestern Oklahoma City off limits until today.

This morning, hundreds of cars lined up bumper to bumper at a police checkpoint, where they had to show identification and prove that they lived in the neighborhood before they could be allowed in.

Stunned residents of some other areas had been allowed in Tuesday to search for precious mementos.

The tornadoes killed at least 43 people in Oklahoma and Kansas on Monday. More twisters swarmed across parts of Texas and Arkansas on Tuesday, killing one more person.

Hundreds more were injured as entire communities were reduced to rubble.

Destruction was most severe in Oklahoma County, which includes Oklahoma City and half a dozen other communities.

``It’s strictly just a guess but we are thinking between 2,000 and 3,000 houses (demolished). I don’t have any estimates on businesses,″ David Van Nostrand, director of the Oklahoma County Emergency Management Office, said at a news conference today.

At least 1,500 businesses and homes in Kansas were destroyed or heavily damaged.

Among those with major losses from Monday’s storm was Jon Hansen, the assistant Oklahoma City fire chief who also was the fire department spokesman during the downtown federal building bombing. He lost most of his house.

``It’ll probably have to destroyed. I can’t live there again. But it is not as bad as some of the others guys around here,″ Hansen said. ``I am really fortunate.″

Amid the wreckage on Tuesday, Hansen said, he was able to rescue his daughter’s gold fish and gerbil.

Out of Monday’s outbreak of 76 twisters, one that was at least a half-mile wide struck parts of Oklahoma City with wind estimated at more than 260 mph, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The tornado was classified an F5, the most powerful.

It carved a 19-mile gash through the area, killing at least 38 people. Tornadoes in Kansas killed five people, including a month-old baby in Haysville.

A preliminary estimate from the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry trade group, said insured losses in Oklahoma City could reach $225 million.

But Van Nostrand disputed that. ``We probably will never give you a dollar figure simply because we can’t be sure it’s accurate,″ he said.

One problem with locating and assessing the damage, Van Nostrand said, is that the tornado destroyed virtually all of the street signs and addresses in the affected neighborhoods.

In northeastern Texas late Tuesday, a tornado damaged about 150 buildings and injured at least 14 people in the town of DeKalb. A woman was killed in neighboring Titus County.

``The only thing I remember is that the lights went off and the roof came off,″ said James Sckittone, 18. ``Everybody started crying and praying. It looked like an atomic bomb fell.″

In southern Arkansas, thunderstorms also spawned tornadoes, large hail and heavy rain Tuesday, leaving thousands of people without electricity. Several houses and a church were damaged. No injuries were reported.

Monday’s tornado outbreak was the nation’s deadliest since 42 people were killed last year in Florida. It was also the deadliest to hit Oklahoma since 1947, when a twister killed 113 people in Woodward.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and James Lee Witt, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, surveyed the damage Tuesday. President Clinton, who has declared 11 Oklahoma counties disaster areas, is expected to visit the stricken area Saturday.

At the Midwest City senior center, Belinda Bentley of the Heartland Rescue Care Team loaded up cases of bottled water. She said many of the businesses that have donated food and supplies also helped out after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

``Once again it’s Oklahoma, and we’re all working together,″ she said.

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