SAND SPRINGS, Okla. (AP) — Oklahomans salvaged soggy belongings Thursday after the Plains' first tornado outbreak of 2015, expressing gratitude that casualties were low but understanding that nature's next punch could be far worse.
One person died and dozens of people were injured when tornadoes hit parts of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas during Wednesday's evening rush hour. The mayor in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb devastated by a massive tornado two years ago, called the storm that hit his city a "junior tornado." But residents of a hard-hit Sand Springs, just west of Tulsa, said the storm was agonizing.
"Tornadoes mean a loss for a lot of people and their property," Lisa Reagle said as she rummaged through her father's demolished mobile home looking for photographs of him playing music with Merle Haggard.
Deidre Maxwell scoured the debris for her parents' prescription medications and any family keepsakes. She also was looking for the family car, a PT Cruiser that had been parked beside their mobile home.
"I don't even know how I'm going to get in this," she said, struggling to lift the front door from the nearly demolished trailer.
Wednesday's storms broke a months-long tornado drought in Oklahoma; a day earlier, an Arkansas waterspout was the first twister to hit the U.S. in a month.
Reagle credited "a God thing" for the low casualty count, and Tulsa County Undersheriff Tim Albin said the area fared surprisingly well through tornadoes, hail and heavy rains.
"I'll tell you, when we got to pulling up on the scene you just thought we were going to be pulling a hundred bodies out of here," Albin said.
Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 25 counties ahead of a visit to Moore, where seven school children were among 24 people killed in a top-scale EF-5 tornado in 2013. Wednesday's storms were considerably weaker, and the governor said damage was still being assessed.
"We've been down this road before. We know what to do," Fallin said after touring an elementary school that lost its roof.
Moore has been hit by 22 tornadoes since 1893, and since 1999, four storms have been rated near the top of the scale for tornado damage. The city's longtime mayor, Glenn Lewis, described the recent twister as "kind of like a junior tornado for us" as he assessed the damage Thursday.
Back in Sand Springs, where Fallin also planned to visit, Desiree Roberts said the mobile home she lost in the storm was likely her last.
"The risk is just too great," she said.
The U.S. had had an unusually quiet start to the tornado season. After a series of storms in early January from Mississippi to Georgia, cold air settled into much of the country, suppressing violent weather. Tuesday's waterspout over Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas was the nation's first twister in March; the month typically has 120.
The last time the U.S. had no twisters in March was nearly 50 years ago, but a slow start means nothing once the atmosphere becomes ripe for storms, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center.
"We always know it's a possibility, and it may be 'You're next,'" Reagle said.
Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.