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Tornado outbreak kills five people in Oklahoma

EL RENO, Okla. —Violent thunderstorms roared across middle America on Tuesday, killing seven people in two states, with several tornadoes touching down in Oklahoma and high winds pounding rural Kansas.

The high-powered storms arrived as forecast, just two days after a massive tornado tore through the southwest Missouri town of Joplin and killed 122 people.

Several tornadoes struck Oklahoma City and its suburbs during rush hour, killing at least five people and injuring at least 60 others, including three children who were in critical condition, authorities said.

Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said four people died west of Oklahoma City in Canadian County, where a weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds. She did not have any immediate details about the deaths.

Two people were killed in central Kansas on Tuesday evening by debris from a passing tornado, authorities said.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said they were killed around 6 p.m. when a tree was propelled into their van on U.S. 281 near the Stafford County town of St. John.

The Storm Prediction Center had warned since the weekend that strong, long-lived tornadoes could hit Oklahoma and adjacent parts of Kansas and Texas. The storm that killed four west of Oklahoma City later moved to the capital's northern suburbs and on toward Stillwater — covering a distance of about 80 miles.

"We knew for the last two days that we had an opportunity for long-tracking tornadoes, and unfortunately that came true today," said Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

The long track gave Oklahomans plenty of time to seek shelter or run away — or in Lynn Hartman's case, both.

Hartman, 39, said that as warning sirens sounded she huddled in the pantry of her Piedmont home with her two children and the family dog until her husband, Mike, arrived home from work.

"We're there just crying and praying," Hartman said, and her daughter, Sierra, 10, was saying repeatedly, "I just don't want to die."

The family then decided to flee their home as the storm approached, crossing the Oklahoma City metropolitan area to Shawnee. Once there, sirens sounded again for a storm approaching the Oklahoma City area from the south. The four drove around for three hours before returning to find their roof gone. The pantry was standing, but Hartman wasn't convinced the family would have survived the strong storm.

Chris Pyle was stunned as he pulled into the neighborhood northwest of Piedmont where he lived as a teenager. His parents' home was destroyed, but the house next door had only a few damaged shingles.

"That's when it started sinking in," he said. "You don't know what to think. There are lots of memories, going through the trash tonight, finding old trophies and pictures."

His parents, Fred and Snow Pyle, rode out the storm in a shelter at a nearby school and spent the rest of the night fielding well-wishes from neighbors and cleaning up.

Ooten said at least 60 people were injured in the evening storms. Three children suffered major injuries in Piedmont, west of Oklahoma City, according to Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for the region's Emergency Medical Service Authority.

Storm clouds also spawned funnel clouds and at least one tornado around north Texas, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Dallas Love Field spokesman Jose Torres said everyone in and around the airport terminal were moved to a basement beneath the terminal as storms moved through. He said no one reported actually seeing a tornado at the airport.

Also, fans were evacuated from the Rangers Ballpark concourse as a precaution against hail during a rain delay in Tuesday night's game between the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers.

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