At least two people have died after a suspected tornado destroyed a hotel and roared through a nearby mobile home park, causing significant damage in area of Oklahoma.
El Reno mayor Matt White said “there have been two fatalities at this point in time”, adding that officials are currently working to notify relatives.
Mr White said search and rescue efforts are continuing.
National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith said the suspected twister hit El Reno on Saturday night as a powerful storm system rolled through the state.
Experts are trying to determine the severity of the damage to the town located just west of Oklahoma City.
The American Budget Value Inn was destroyed by the storm.
Images from the scene showed emergency crews sifting through rubble after part of the hotel’s second storey collapsed into a pile of debris strewn about the first floor and car park.
Elsewhere, overturned cars and twisted metal could be seen briefly as intermittent lightning flashed across the sky and the wailing sirens of approaching emergency vehicles were heard in the distance.
Trailers at the Skyview Estates mobile home park adjacent to the hotel also were damaged, as was part of a nearby car dealership.
“We have absolutely experienced a traumatic event,” Mr White said.
He said several people were transported to hospitals in Oklahoma City.
“We’re doing a search and rescue right now… we have all hands on deck,” Mr White said.
The storm in El Reno comes after a week of tornados, severe rain and flooding in the Southern Plains and Midwest, including a tornado that hit Jefferson City, Missouri.
The region’s most recent spate of bad weather and flooding has been blamed for at least nine deaths.
Tweety Garrison, 63, said that she was inside her mobile home – along with her husband, two young grandchildren and a family friend – when the storm hit.
Mrs Garrison said when she heard the storm coming she immediately hit the ground. Moments later she heard the mobile home next door slam into hers, before it flipped over and landed on her roof, she said.
Mrs Garrison said the incident lasted five to 10 minutes. She said there was a tornado warning on her phone but the sirens did not go off until after the tornado hit.
Mrs Garrison’s 32-year-old son, Elton, said he had heard the wailing tornado sirens and had just laid down at home about half a mile away when his phone rang.
He recognised his mother’s number, but there was no voice on the other end when he answered. “I thought, ‘That’s weird’,” he said.
Then his mother called back, and delivered a chilling message: “We’re trapped.”
He said when he arrived at his parents’ home, he found it blocked by debris and sitting with another trailer on top of it. He immediately began clearing a path to the home so that he could eventually lift a portion of an outside wall just enough so that all five occupants could slip beneath it and escape.
“My parents were in there and two of my kids, one nine and the other 12 … my main emotion was fear,” Mr Garrison said. “I couldn’t get them out of there quick enough.”
Mr Garrison said he was not alarmed by the warning sirens when he first heard them at home.
He said: “We hear them all the time here, so it didn’t seem like a big deal… I heard a lot of rain with the wind. But when it kinda got calm all of a sudden, that’s when it didn’t feel right.”
- Press Association