MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 15, 2011

Severe weather leaves rubble in its wake

WAGONER — Residents about three miles northwest of town picked up the pieces left behind Friday after thunderstorms battered their neighborhood and other parts of eastern Oklahoma the night before.

One resident, James McMahan, saw most of the roof ripped from his house in Heath Estates by winds that may have been tornadic. McMahan’s wife and twin sons were home when the storm hit between 8 and 9 p.m.

“I left the house after that first little storm passed,” McMahan said. “When the next storm hit I tried calling home but could not get through.”

McMahan was unable to get through to his family because they were hidden inside a closet. Outside the closet, the roof of McMahan’s house was being ripped off by the winds.

Walker McMahan, 11, said he and his brother were sitting on the couch when his brother, Wyatt, “heard a big noise outside.” The two boys went to the door and a tree had been felled by winds, so they took shelter with their mother inside a closet.

“When we came out, the roof was gone in the living room,” Walker said. “I thought it was like a dream or something.”

The McMahan’s next-door neighbors, Nolan and Glendene Geurin, fared much better. Damage to their property was limited to a lost garage, some shingle damage and downed fences.

“We were watching a wall cloud out our back window when all of a sudden it hit ... We went inside the bathroom,” Glendene Geurin said. “But we were lucky, very fortunate to get no more damage than we did.”

According to the National Weather Service in Tulsa, severe storms developed along a dry line at about 3 p.m. Thursday near Interstate 35 in central Oklahoma. Those storms quickly matured into supercells, moving into eastern Oklahoma by 4 p.m. Storms redeveloped into the evening east of Tulsa.

The weather service received several reports of tornadoes and hail up to the size of golf balls and softballs Thursday night as the storms moved through eastern Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas.

Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Friday for 26 counties affected by the storm, including Wagoner County. Meteorologist Steve Amburn said field crews were surveying the damage across eastern Oklahoma to determine how much damage was caused by straight-line winds or tornadoes. Two tornadoes had been confirmed midday Friday.

“We haven’t made it to Wagoner yet,” Amburn said early Friday afternoon. “They are surveying the areas where more extensive damage has been reported.”

Amburn said radar images from Thursday night show what appeared to be tornadic activity near the neighborhood where the McMahan’s and Geurins live. He described the image as showing “a pretty strong cuplet,” an area where winds are moving both toward and away from the radar.

Reviewing the radar images recorded between 8:18 and 8:23 p.m., Amburn said it looks like it could have been a tornado or winds that “gusted out from the storm.”

James McMahan said it is hard to tell from the damage whether the winds were straight-line or tornadic in nature. But he pointed out where three 4-by-4 posts had been lifted straight out of the ground.

Two of the 10- to 12-foot posts could not be located. The third was found about 50 yards away. McMahan’s wife, Rose McMahan, said Thursday night she saw the water being sucked out of the toilet as she and her sons were scrambling for cover.

“She called me and said we’d lost our home,” James McMahan said of his conversation with his wife after the storms passed. “I said, ‘No, our house is gone, but we still have our home.”

Amburn said field crews are expected to survey the damage near Wagoner during the next few days.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot @muskogeephoenix.com.

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