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OKLAHOMA CITY – Authorities are investigating the damage left behind by spring storms carrying more than a dozen suspected tornadoes that swept across the southern Plains, bringing floods, forcing the evacuation of an international airport and destroying homes near Oklahoma City.
At least 12 people were injured, but no deaths were immediately reported from the twisters that also hit rural parts of Texas, Kansas and Nebraska on Wednesday night.
The Oklahoma City area seemed to be the hardest hit. A twister destroyed homes in Grady County, southwest of the city, and it appeared another tornado touched down in the area later Wednesday evening when a second storm came through.
"We do strongly think there was a tornado on the south side of Oklahoma City," meteorologist Michael Scotten said after the second storm that hit around 8:40 p.m.
The storm flipped vehicles on Interstate 35 and left power lines strewn across the roadway, Scotten said. Officials twice evacuated the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, sending passengers and staff into a tunnel outside the security zone.
Before sunrise Thursday in northeast Oklahoma City, fire department divers worked for hours to rescue a motorist who was trapped in a car by the high waters left in the wake of the storms. The female driver used her cellphone to call for help from inside the car, police Capt. Dee Patty said. A flash flood warning was in effect for the area through 9 a.m.
The National Weather Service said 5 to 8 inches of rain fell in the area, said Forrest Mitchell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma. A measurement of 7.1 inches at the Oklahoma City airport set a new daily rainfall record, he said, topping the previous record of 2.61 inches.
Oklahoma City spokeswoman Kristy Yager said the rainfall prompted the city to issue its first flash flood emergency.
Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for Emergency Medical Services Authority, said ambulances responded to water rescues "all over" the Oklahoma City metro area. Two ambulance crews required also assistance after getting stuck in high water, she said.
Lt. John Vincent of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said early Thursday that troopers responded to many emergency calls for stranded vehicles overnight and that all stuck vehicles have been moved. He said all flooded roads have reopened except for the H.E. Bailey Turnpike, which is partially closed.
O'Leary said ambulances took 12 residents from a trailer park in south Oklahoma City to hospitals. She had no details about their injuries.
Grady County Emergency Management Director Dale Thompson said about 10 homes were destroyed in Amber and 25 were destroyed in Bridge Creek. As the storm moved to the east, forecasters declared a tornado emergency for Moore, where seven schoolchildren were among 24 people killed in a storm two years ago. When the first of the storms moved through Wednesday, school districts held their pupils in safe places.
Also in Grady County, all animals were accounted for after a zoo in Tuttle was hit by a tornado, Alisa Voegeli, a dispatcher at the sheriff's office, said. The damage had initially prompted fears that wild animals had escaped.
A flash flood warning was in effect for parts of six counties in central Oklahoma and two counties in north-central Texas. That area also experienced possible tornadoes late Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, Mitchell said.
In Nebraska, 10 to 15 homes were damaged near Grand Island, and between Hardy and Ruskin, near the Kansas line. Minor flooding was reported in Lincoln after 5 to 7 inches of rain fell, and the weather service issued flood warnings for much of the southeast of the state.
At least nine tornadoes were reported in Kansas, the strongest of them in the sparsely populated north-central part of the state. That included a large tornado near the tiny town of Republic just south of the Nebraska state line, where some homes were damaged. In Harvey County, a tornado destroyed a hog barn and damaged trees, according to the National Weather Service.
The Storm Prediction Center had warned that bad weather would come to Tornado Alley and said more storms were possible later in the week.
"People just really need to stay weather aware, have a plan and understand that severe storms are possible across portions of the southern Plains almost daily through Saturday," meteorologist Jonathan Kurtz said.
Associated Press writers Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; Bill Draper in Kansas City, Missouri; and Sarah Rankin in Chicago contributed to this report.