PIEDMONT, Okla. — When three tornadoes marched toward Oklahoma City and its suburbs, thousands of people in the path benefited from good forecasts, luck and live television to avoid the kind of catastrophe that befell Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo.
Even though at least 15 people died in the latest round of violent weather, schools and offices closed early, giving many families plenty of time to take shelter. And even stragglers were able to get to safety at the last minute because TV forecasters narrated the twisters' every turn.
"We live in Oklahoma and we don't mess around," Lori Jenkins of Guthrie said after emerging from a neighbor's storm shelter to find her carport crumpled and her home damaged.
The people of Oklahoma City, which has been struck by more tornadoes than any other U.S. city, knew the storms were coming. Anxiety was perhaps running higher than usual after last month's twister outbreak in the South that killed more than 300 people and a Sunday storm that at latest count killed 125 people in Joplin.
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The Oklahoma twisters proved to be weaker than the other tornadoes. But the minute-by-minute accounts of the developing weather helped thousands of people stay abreast of the danger.
Television helicopters broadcast live footage while the system approached the metropolitan area of 1.2 million people — calling out to specific communities like Piedmont to "Take cover now!"
In Guthrie, about 30 miles north of the capital, Ron Brooks was watching when he learned that a tornado was barreling toward him. He heeded the weatherman's warning, scooped up his two children and took cover with his wife in their laundry room.
"When they told us to get into the shelter or interior room, we did that," Brooks said. "The first year I moved to Oklahoma, in 1997, I saw a funnel drop out of a wall cloud. Since seeing one, I've always taken it pretty seriously." He emerged 20 minutes later, relieved to learn the tornado passed just north of his home.
In Joplin, rescue and recovery work continued Wednesday, with crews repeating grid searches for survivors who might be buried in rubble. Structural engineers were sent inside the ruins of St. John's Medical Center, which was crippled by the twister, to see whether the hospital could be saved.