ARDMORE — Eight people are confirmed dead in Carter County but the tornado's death toll could rise, according to Carter County Sheriff Ken Grace. Sheriff Grace said Tuesday evening there were 15 people who may have died but that was not confirmed.
The Chamber of Commerce office furniture and walls are strewn across grass after a tornado destroyed much of the city of Lone Grove in southern, Okla. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
Carter County emergency officials were forced to suspend the search for survivors shortly after 1 a.m. until daylight Wednesday.
“It’s just too dangerous,” Sheriff Grace said, referring to jagged metal and live wires hidden in rubble and debris. “We don’t need to be adding any more injuries to what we already have.”
Sheriff’s officials said this town of about 5,000 people was devastated when a tornado estimated to have been about a half-mile wide tore through the middle of Lone Grove, ripping buildings from their slabs, demolishing dozens of mobile homes and snapping any trees and power lines in its path.
“It looks just like any tornado footage you see on TV,” said OHP Trooper Bryant Harris, who lives in Lone Grove.
“There’s nothing left ... twisted metal, cars turned upside down, cars in trees.”
Harris, who lives just down the road from some of the most hard hit areas, said he and his family rode the storm out in a tornado shelter.
“It really does sound like a freight train coming through,” he said, describing the roar of the devastating storm.
About an hour before rescue workers suspended their search, the distraught sheriff said his men were doing all they could to clear areas and look for dozens of missing people — freeing people from debris and wrecked cars and marking bright orange “X”s on areas that had been searched. But Grace said he just didn’t have enough light or man power.
“We’ve had reports of people calling for help in abandoned fields,” the sheriff said. “We’re doing all we can.”
At least two trailer parks, and dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed. One deputy sheriff said whole families were lost in one of the trailer parks, and he said he expected more fatalities to be discovered at first light.
“I’m scared to death to see what daylight brings,” the deputy said.
Lone Grove lost its only furniture store on state Hwy. 70, and all that was left of the chamber of commerce, next door to John’s Furniture, was a slab and scattered debris.
The UPS building, also on U.S. Highway 70, had part of its roof ripped off, and the town remained without power through the night.
For the most part, neighboring Ardmore - a much larger population area - was spared, but sheriff’s officials said an area north of Ardmore, near Springer, was also hit hard, including a private school, Beavers Academy.
Grace said rescue workers from all across southern Oklahoma were arriving to help out in the search and recovery efforts and extensive efforts with helicopters and grid searches would begin at first light.
Lone Grove survivors recall tornado
Lana Hartman and seven others were huddled in a small closet, about 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide, in their one-story brick house when they felt a tornado roar past their house last night. No one in the house was hurt.
Hartman said those in the closet could feel wind underneath the closet door. A teenager in the closet began lifting off the ground and others had to hold her down by grabbing her T-shirt, Hartman said.
Hartman moved into the house on Tuesday, just hours before the tornado struck. Hartman's house is next to a furniture store, which was significantly damaged.
This morning, couches and recliners remained lined up in the store, but several walls and part of the tin roof and insulation is missing. John Taliaferro has owned the store for 37 years.