The Woodward News

April 15, 2012

Tornado rips through Woodward

At least 5 fatalities from storm

Woodward News staff reports
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — A massive tornado hit the west part of Woodward early Sunday morning, causing extensive damage and loss of life.

Six people are known to have died in the tornado, 2 people, 1 a child, southwest of Woodward near the Tangier area and 2 children at the Hideaway Trailer Park. Another person from the trailer park died at the hospital, officials said.

Among those killed were Frank Hobbie and his daughters Faith Dean Hobbie, 8, and Kelly Marie Hobbie, 6. All 3 were in the trailer park. Killed southwest of Woodward were Darren Juhl and his 10-year-old daughter Rosa Marie.

The sixth victim's name was released Monday afternoon. Steve Peil, 62, died late Sunday at an Amarillo Hospital. Piel was in the Hideaway Trailer Park when the tornado hit. He was transported by helicopter to Amarillo on Sunday.

Crews searched for more victims after daylight on Sunday but didn't report finding anyone.

There were 29 injuries reported, ranging from minor to critical. Woodward Regional Hospital CEO Dave Wallace said 6 people were admitted and 5 more transported to other hospitals, 4 by helicopter to hospitals in Amarillo and Lubbock and a 5th later in the day to Enid by ambulance. One of those taken to Amarillo was a young boy who was placed in full body cast.

 The tornado, which just struck just after midnight, was the deadliest in the Woodward area since the April 9, 1947 tornado that killed over 100 people.

Sunday evening, Rick Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman tweeted  that after surveying the damage the preliminary rating for the Woodward tornado is an EF-3. Smith noted that the ratings are subject to change.

Woodward Emergency Management officials confirmed there were 89 homes and 13 businesses destroyed in the tornado. Many more buildings suffered at least some damage.

Gov. Mary Fallin toured the area Sunday afternoon and she also declared a state of emergency for 12 counties in Oklahoma, including Woodward.

Fallin said after touring the area that the emergency responders were "remarkable" in their response,

"Getting the response out immediately throughout the community - it's just remarkable what you have done," Fallin told a group of emergency officials. "Once again that emphasizes how important it is to have a plan."

Mayor Roscoe Hill said Sunday afternoon, that Woodward is going to rebuild. He spoke of homeowners clearing out debris from their home and starting to repair things where they could.

"We're going to pick it up and we're going to straightened up and we're gonna get built back and we're gonna grow further through this," Hill said

The storm was extremely fast-moving.

Officials said there was just 3 minutes of warning time before the tornado hit. Possibly tower or power line issues limited the time available for sirens to sound. Woodward Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer said he switched to the backup siren system, but said "it looks like we lost power to most of the sirens because of the violence of the tornado."

"The warning was issued at 12:16 a.m. and the tornado hit the town at 12:19 a.m., we had no time to issue a warning with any other type of system," Woodward City Manager Alan Riffel said.

One of the sirens apparently did go off and some people noted they did hear it, while other reports were that the sound was faint or not heard at all.

Assistant City Manager Doug Haines said he could hear a faint siren, however it wasn't until his mother called him at that same moment to warn him of the storm that he sought shelter.

Haines said he was barely able to latch the door on his safe room before "then boom," the tornado struck his home, causing extensive damage.

"There is a declared state of emergency, that's automatic when the tornado warning system is activated," Riffel said. "Search and rescue began immediately,"

Riffel noted that fire and rescue crews worked quickly to try to help people from their damaged homes.

"We did take a direct hit, the northwest part of town received the most damage," Riffel said.  "It stayed on the ground for a great distance. "It was limited in scope and path, but it was destructive in the areas that it was hit.. A number of homes were destroyed or damaged, but the mobile home park suffered the biggest brunt of the damage."

Meritt Harlow, the Woodward News circulation director, was at his dad's home in 2500 block of Taylor.

"We were watching it, it happened so quick," Harlow said. "I got my niece, who is in a wheelchair, in the cellar, then went back to see exactly what it was going to do.

"Had heard it mentioned it (tornado) was at Oklahoma and Hutch's. I went to go to cellar and when stepped out on front porch I could see it, it was there. I got in the cellar and rode it out.

Afterwards Harlow tried to go to his trailer in the Hideaway Trailer Park. He was not allowed in, but said there was extensive damage.

"A bystander knew where my trailer was and said it was gone," Harlow said. "There was a lot of debris and there were trailer roofs everywhere. It did a lot of damage."

Harlow, who also lost a vehicle to the storm, estimated as many as 10 trailers destroyed in the back part of the trailer park.

Another witness, Christine Kirbie, who works for the Woodward News, was at 1910 Meadowlake when the storm hit. The house at 1910 Meadowlake was damaged but the house across the street "was gone." She also said a tree in the front yard at 1910 Meadowlake was torn away leaving only the roots in the yard.

"We're getting a lot of support and the state is supporting us as well," Riffel said, noting assisting agencies include the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Oklahoma State Office of Emergency Management, and numerous fire, EMS, and law enforcement agencies from neighboring counties and throughout Northwest Oklahoma.

Also, a carpet store on 34th Street by the movie theatre was destroyed as was the current only working movie theatre in the city.

Additional damage was also reported at 60th and Hanks Trail west of city limits and in Tangier blacktop area west of town near the airport. Some reports mentioned as much as an 8 mile damage field starting west of Woodward and into the residential areas around 34th Street.

There were numerous power lines brought down by the storm as it tracked from the Tangier area northeast up along 34th St. hitting the Quail Drive area and the movie theaters, Mutual of Omaha building and residential areas along Cheyenne Dr. and Ridgecrest Ave. as it continued to track to northeast toward the Hideaway Trailer Park.

Approximately half a dozen homes in the area of Cheyenne Dr. and Ridgecrest Ave., were flattened and numerous mobile homes in the Hideaway Trailer Park were simply blown away, and there was extensive damage to many more homes.

Jason Pack was one of the ones whose home along Choctaw Ave. was just completely wiped out by the tornado.  Pack was asleep on the couch on the east side of his home when he said "I heard a gush of wind and I guess I was carried out the door."  He said he was disoriented and "kind of in shock" when neighbors found him several yards to the south of where his home used to be, with scrapes on his back from being ripped from his home.

"I'm just thankful to be alive," he said, noting "it was a wild ride."

Officials have their command post at a truck stop on 36th and Oklahoma.

First responders, emergency managers and other personnel from across the state and even in Kansas came to Woodward to help with the tornado.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Living Word Fellowship Church, 1310 Oklahoma and there were reports around 5 a.m. on Sunday of up to a dozen people staying there. The Salvation Army also stepped in to assist people.

Power and traffic lights were out in the western part of the city for most of the early morning hours on Sunday and all travel in the area was being discouraged.

OG&E continued to work to restore power and by mid afternoon the number of customers without power in Woodward was under 600.

There were also reports of some gas leaks in the damaged area but the gas was shut off quickly during the early morning hours on Sunday.