OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s a warning as familiar as a daily prayer for Tornado Alley residents: When a twister approaches, take shelter in a basement or low-level interior room or closet, away from windows and exterior walls.
But with the powerful devastation from the May 20 twister that killed 24 and pummeled the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore still etched in their minds, many Oklahomans instead opted to flee Friday night when a violent tornado developed and headed toward the state’s capital city.
It was a dangerous decision to make.
Interstates and roadways already packed with rush-hour traffic quickly became parking lots as people tried to escape the oncoming storm. Motorists were trapped in their vehicles, a place emergency officials say is one of the worst to be in a tornado.
“It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives,” said Terri Black, 51, from Moore.
After seeing last month’s tornado also turn homes into piles of splintered rubble, Black said she decided to try to outrun the tornado when she learned her Oklahoma City home was in harm’s way. She quickly regretted it.
When she realized she was a sitting duck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Black turned around and found herself directly in the path of the most violent part of the storm.
“My car was actually lifted off the road and then set back down,” Black said. “The trees were leaning literally to the ground. Big blue trash cans were being tossed around like a piece of paper in the wind.
“I’ll never do it again.”
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said the roadways were quickly congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents.
“They had no place to go, and that’s always a bad thing. They were essentially targets just waiting for a tornado to touch down,” Randolph said. “I’m not sure why people do that sort of stuff, but it is very dangerous. It not only puts them in harm’s way, but it adds to the congestion. It really is a bad idea for folks to do.”
At least nine people were killed in Friday’s storms.