Stillwater News Press

April 18, 2012

Woodward moves into tornado recovery mode; Larry Gatlin performs at benefit dinner

CNHI News Service

WOODWARD, Okla. — Disaster officials said the Sunday tornado that killed six people would have claimed more lives had the National Weather Service not warned residents of the approaching twister.

Matt Lehenbauer, director of the Woodward County Emergency Management Agency, said the tornado alert went out over weather radios and on Twitter and Facebook social networks, providing time for people to seek shelter.

“Those guys saved lives,” said Lehenbauer of the Weather Service. “It formed rapidly but they got the word out.”

A lightning strike crippled the town’s storm siren warning system just before the tornado struck at 12:18 a.m. Sunday, he said.

“Outdoor warning sirens are not meant to warn you inside your house,” said Lehenbauer. “We need other warning devices, weather radios, in every home. I wish we had the money to give them to everyone.”

Four of the six people killed, including a father and his two young daughters, had taken refuge in trailer homes on the west edge of the town. The other two died in a home a few miles away.

Funerals for the victims were scheduled for Thursday through the weekend.

Lehenbauer said the tornado featured winds of between 135 and 165 mph, destroying nearly everything along its narrow path and knocking out power to the community of 12,000.

He said 31 people were injured and more than 100 homes and businesses destroyed or badly damaged, causing the community to request federal disaster relief funds.

Donations of food, clothing and cash have been pouring into the community since Sunday, said Lehenbauer. Five-gallon bucket cleanup kits of gloves, batteries, trash bags, tarps and flashlights were placed outside homes in the tornado area. They also contained a small American flag.

Country music star Larry Gatlin, who wrote a song for last weekend’s storm victims and survivors, performed to a packed house at a fund-raising concert Wednesday night at Woodward’s Cyrstal Beach Stadium. Organizers said all donations Wednesday’s would go to help the storm’s survivors. Gatlin also offered to sing “Amazing Grace” at storm victims’ funerals.