OKLAHOMA CITY – President Bush issued a disaster declaration for Oklahoma (search) on Saturday, clearing the way for federal aid after the second tornado in as many days wrecked homes and businesses across the capital city, part of one of the nation's most tornado-stricken weeks on record.
"We'll get this money going and we'll get to working for you," Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) Director Mike Brown told Gov. Brad Henry after touring damaged neighborhoods.
An enormous tornado hopscotched across the city's outskirts during the dark late Friday, laying waste to homes and spraying debris through Oklahoma's highest population concentration along a southwest-to-northeast swath.
Five people were injured, one critically, and power was knocked out for thousands of customers.
It did not appear injuries would climb above a dozen, "which is unbelievable when you look at the pictures and that it went right across the metro," said Paul O'Leary, a spokesman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority.
Tornadoes and other severe weather have killed 42 people in Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas and Illinois in the past week, which will likely qualify as the nation's most tornado-active on record, said Rich Thompson, lead forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service, in Norman, Okla.
"We just don't have a down day; that's what's been very unusual. It just doesn't seem to stop," Thompson said early Saturday.
After sunrise Saturday, the weather service posted a fresh round of tornado warnings for parts of Missouri and Illinois. And the Storm Prediction Center (search) said severe thunderstorms were possible from eastern Oklahoma to western Ohio.
"We're got one more system to deal with and expect one more big severe weather day (Saturday)," he said.
With Saturday's first daylight on the wreckage in Oklahoma City (search), authorities were still assessing the extent of the damage. About 18,000 OG&E customers were without power Saturday, the utility company OG&E said.
On Thursday, another strong tornado blasted a 19-mile-long path through Oklahoma City's southern suburbs, injuring 134, destroying more than 300 houses and businesses and damaging hundreds more. At least three people remained in critical condition Saturday.
Friday night's twister first touched down in Oklahoma City south of Interstate 40, moved north into the suburbs of Bethany and Warr Acres and then moved back into Oklahoma City along I-35, said police Sgt. Mike Klika. It then turned northeast back along I-44 and tracked toward Tulsa.
"I think our citizens had early warning and I think they learned their lesson, they took heed and took cover," Bethany Police Chief Neal Troutman said.
Putnam City West High School in far northwest Oklahoma City, which lost its roof in a tornado several years ago, was about two-thirds collapsed.
"At first glance, it looks like bulldozer material," Principal Kim Lanier said.
Neighbors came out to help Gene Wilson, whose mower service was heavily damaged.
"It's just devastating," Wilson said. "My building and everything I've worked for 30 years is down on the ground."
His wife, Carol Wilson, looked through papers scattered in the rubble. "Oh my God, I couldn't believe it. It's horrible. It's our whole life," she said.
In Missouri, tornadoes touched down in at least two western counties Friday night, causing damage and some minor injuries, continuing a weeklong onslaught of severe weather in the Kansas City area.
"It came down right on top of me," said Freeman, Mo., Police Officer John Smith. "You could just here this 'brrrr' and I thought that was it. I thought it was going to pick me up and throw me."
By early Saturday, 298 tornadoes had been reported to the weather service nationwide, Thompson said at the Storm Prediction Center, a number that was still somewhat in flux and was most likely to rise. The most recent comparable rash was 159, in 1999.
He stressed that because of new tracking technologies and a burgeoning network of weather spotters, the average number of recorded tornadoes is ever on the rise.
An end was in sight for the weeklong barrage of twisters, he said.
"By late Sunday, a big cold front will scour out most of the country. We'll see some pleasant temps and drier conditions ... of course, it's May, so that could change real fast."