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At Least Two Dead In 'Disaster Emergency' As Tornadoes Hit Midwest

At least two have been killed in Oklahoma and a disaster emergency has been declared in Kansas after a severe storm system moving through the Midwest spawned a number of strong tornadoes.

Woodward County Sheriff's Dept. in Oklahoma confirmed two deaths, and there were unconfirmed reports of more fatalities in the area.

In Kansas, governor Sam Brownback issued a declaration of disaster emergency to help speed relief to areas affected by the storms. "We are continuing to assess all the damages across the state," said Brownback, "and signing this declaration clears the way for making state aid available to those counties that need help with clean-up and recovery."

Dozens of tornadoes were reported Saturday as baseball-size hail shattered windows and tore the siding off homes in northeast Nebraska and one twister damaged a hospital in Creston, Iowa. Several homes were wrecked in Kansas.

NBC News reported there were 112 recorded tornadoes in Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana and Oklahoma.

Forecasters had warned of "life-threatening" storms in the nation's midsection. No serious injuries from Saturday were immediately reported.

A tornado was reported on the ground near Wichita, Kan., late Saturday and power in the city was going out, NBC station KSN reported. Homes were reported damaged on the city's south side, but details were not immediately available.

KSN also reported that one building at airplane-maker Spirit Aerosystem collapsed in the storm. At the Wichita airport, winds gusting to 84 mph blew open hangars and overturned luggage carts, The Weather Channel reported. McConnell Air Force Base, which relocated aircraft to other bases before the storms moved in, reported hangar and housing damage, KSN said.

The National Weather Service office in Wichita temporarily turned over operations to the Topeka office Saturday as storms threatened to destroy its building.

A tornado was spotted in Langley, Kan., earlier Saturday evening.

One tornado narrowly missing Salina after being on the ground for about 30 miles.

Three farmsteads sustained damage in Rush County, Kan. and a home was destroyed near Langley, NBC News reported. Trees were downed and power lines were down for other rural customers.

One tornado damaged the roof and blew out windows at the Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston, Iowa, but no injuries were reported, officials said. Power was out in much of the city of 7,600 population about 75 miles southwest of Des Moines.

Fremont County, Iowa, Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius told The Associated Press about 75 percent of the town of Thurman was destroyed. He said there were no injuries and no deaths in the town of about 250 people. Crecelius said the town was on lockdown and some residents took refuge in City Hall, which still had power. Officials and residents expect to start cleaning up Sunday.

Stormchasers early Sunday reported major damage from a significant tornado in Woodward, Okla. Significant sructural damage and possible injuries were reported, The Weather Channel reported.

An apparent tornado took down barns, outbuildings and large trees in southeast Nebraska, and Johnson County emergency director Clint Strayhorn said he was still trying to determine how long the twister was on the ground and how much damage it did.

"I'm on a 2-mile stretch that this thing is on the ground and I haven't even gotten to the end of it yet," he said as he walked the path of destruction near the Johnson-Nemaha county line. He described a line of downed trees and a barn that was destroyed. He didn't immediately know of any injuries.

“What is now under way is potentially a very serious situation,” Bill Bunting, chief of operations for the Storm Prediction Center said earlier Saturday. Officials warned that other areas at risk were parts of Illinois, Missouri and Texas.

The last time the National Weather Service issued such a high-risk warning was last April, Bunting said.

Comments from the targeted region started to stream onto msnbc.com’s Facebook page Saturday evening. Their comments and their Facebook IDs:

"Oklahoma is get'n shaken up jus a bit. If they weren't ALL Around. I woulda left state! But gonna pray & ride it out here in Okie.” -- Kimberly Dawn.

“Partly cloudy and very windy in S.E. Kansas with potential for severe storms after 10 pm. You pray and keep your eyes on the weather reports.” -- Valori Richardson

“I'm east of Wichita, KS. Very muggy here. Very windy. Waiting for the storms to pop here. The local weather people are warning everyone to be prepared to take shelter even into the overnight hours. This is the real deal.” -- Diane Lowery.

Nebraska canceled its spring scrimmage football game as heavy rain, hail and lightning moved through the area an hour and a half before kickoff, The Associated Press reported. Records show the spring game has been played every year since at least 1950. In northeast Nebraska, baseball-sized hail rained down, Bunting said.

He advised the nearly 5 million residents who live in the high-risk area to listen to their NOAA weather radio, a nationwide network of radio stations that broadcast from the National Weather Service.

He expects fast-moving tornadoes to touch down after dark, a dangerous time as people may not be able to see the warning signs. The storm threat continues Sunday, he said, as storms move east through Texas, Arkansas and into the Great Lakes region and Wisconsin.

Local officials should notify residents via outdoor sirens, phone calls and social media, Bunting said.

Tornado sirens already sounded across Oklahoma City hours before dawn on Saturday. Department of Emergency Management official Michelann Ooten said one of the possible tornadoes was spotted near Piedmont, a small town near Oklahoma City where a twister killed several people last May.

Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Brown told The Associated Press that the storms Saturday morning were fairly weak but still damaged some homes.

A tornado that touched down Friday afternoon sent 10 people to the hospital with "bumps and bruises" and ripped through southwest Norman, ripping up telephone poles, shredding trees and ripping off rooftops, according to the Oklahoman. The AP reported that 100 people were staying at a Red Cross shelter that had been established.

The Storm Prediction Center, which is part of the National Weather Service, gave the sobering warning that the outbreak could be a "high-end, life-threatening event."

Historic warning
Director Russ Schneider said it was just the second time in U.S. history that the center issued a high-risk warning more than 24 hours in advance. The first was in April 2006, when nearly 100 tornadoes tore across the southeastern U.S., killing a dozen people and damaging more than 1,000 homes in Tennessee.

It's possible to issue earlier warnings because improvements in storm modeling and technology are letting forecasters predict storms earlier and with greater confidence, said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. In the past, people often have had only minutes of warning when a siren went off.

The strongly worded message came after the National Weather Service announced last month that it would start using terms like "mass devastation," "unsurvivable" and "catastrophic" in warnings in an effort to get more people to take heed.


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