Mannford, Prue, and Olive, OK tornado, Apr 1984

Twister hits 4 churches in Oklahoma

From Sentinel wire services

Four churches filled with parishoners were hit by a tornado Sunday in Mannford, Okla., sending some worshipers into closets and others under pews, and leaving at least one person dead.

At least 20 people were injured in Mannford, and 30 others were hurt when a tornado hit the nearby town of Prue, officials said.

Destruction in Mannford was within a six-block area, said Police Chief Orlin White. Two schools were also destroyed, he said.

The four churches - all within a block of each other - were either in the midst of services or about to start them when the twister hit, he added.

In Missouri, a tornado swooped down on a subdivision on the south edge of Owensville on Sunday night, scrambling 50 homes and injuring at least eight people, two seriously, authorities said.

Owensville is a town of 2,400, about 40 miles southeast of Jefferson City.

Several twisters also touched down Sunday night in west central Illinois. Homes were damaged near Carman, about 40 miles west of Galesburg near the Iowa border.

The spring storm brewed severe thunderstorms, accompanied by heavy rains, winds and hail, that began in northern Texas and moved through Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri, the National Weather Service said.

At least 15 tornados and numerous funnel clouds swept across southern and southeast Kansas on Sunday, tearing roofs off buildings, breaking windows and downing tree limbs and power lines.

Dozens of vehicles in church parking lots in Mannfield were picked up by the storm and smashed down on top of each other. Some were left unrecognizable because they'd been rolled into a huge, steel ball.

The First Baptist and Assembly of God churches were destroyed, officials said. Church of the Nazarene was heavily damaged and a fourth church was only slightly damaged.

Hospitals in Tulsa called in extra doctors and nurses to help care for the injured who arrived from Mannford, a town of about 2,000 people 25 miles west of Tulsa, and Prue, population 550, about 12 miles north of Mannford.

Another tornado touched down east of Olive, about seven miles southwest of Mannford, damaging mobile homes and injuring several people, authorities said.

Seventeen storm victims were taken to Oklahoma Osteopathic Hospital, where nine were admitted, said an emergency room nurse who refused to give her name. One victim was admitted at Bartlett Memorial Medical Center, said a spokeswoman.

Hillcrest Memorial Center treated and released six victims and admitted one man for undisclosed surgery, an official said.

Virgil Loren Athens, about 70, was killed when his pickup truck was lifted by the tornado and thrown into nearby Mannford Elementary School, said Don Couch, pastor of Assembly of God Church.

Athens had been on his way to church to pick up his wife because of the tornado warnings, Couch said.

Parishoners had a warning about three to five minutes before the twister hit, Couch said. Some hid in closets, others crawled under pews, and many children were taken into a hallway, he said.

National Guardsmen were called from Terlton, a town hit by last week's storms, and Sapulpa, officials said.

Sunday's storms were "as strong or stronger" than the storms that struck Oklahoma last week, killing 10 and injuring hundreds, the National Weather Service said.