Damage assessment will begin this afternoon in Picher, where six people died after a large tornado destroyed much of the town Saturday evening.
FEMA (web|news) crews will arrive at about 1 p.m. to survey the damage. It's the first step in allowing Governor Brad Henry (web|news) to seek federal disaster aid for the victims. One-hundred fifty people were also injured in the tornado, classified as an EF-4 by officials with the National Weather Service (web|news) .
Picher is a town of only about three hundred residents, located about 85 miles northeast of Tulsa. The population used to be close to 2-thousand, but many had abandoned the town because of the Tar Creek Superfund -- acres and acres of mining waste that polluted the town.
The victims of the tornado have not been identified. Authorities say two were men and four were women. Three of the victims were in a car. A 13-year-old in the car survived and is one of 150 that are injured.
The emergency management office reports about 20 blocks of the town of Picher are heavily damaged, with many homes having only a concrete slab remaining. Steve Osburn lives in Ottawa County and reported Saturday night that rescue crews from Miami quickly responded to the area.
"The ambulances here in Miami are running back and forth as fast as they can," Osburn said. "You can't see any homes anywhere, no street signs left and trees torn out of the ground."
Trooper George Brown says most of the residential area of Picher is gone. He said it was mass chaos inside the town with many homes leveled to the ground and any type of trailer house demolished. Many of the injured people were taken to Integris Hospital in Miami.
HIghways 69 and 69A remain closed in and out of the town of Picher. The Oklahoma National Guard as well as members of Tulsa's Urban Search and Rescue teams are expected to be in the area today. The national guard will assist in controlling the perimeter while the USAR team will help in the search for additional victims.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol tells NewsChannel 8 the emergency response system has been activated and that crews from all over the state are responding to Ottawa County to help in the recovery effort. Crews from Commerce, Quapaw, Miami, Wyandotte, Fairland, Afton, Bartlesville and Cherokee as well as officials from Kansas and Missouri are assisting in Picher.
A Red Cross shelter is being established at First Christian Church in Miami. Anyone who would like to assist is urged to call (918)-831-1109. The Salvation Army is feeding first responders and residents in the hardest hit areas of Picher. They are also providing emotional and spiritual care for those affected by the tornadoes.
NewsChannel 8 Storm Chaser Mike Scantlin also reported multiple injuries and lots of damage after the twister crossed over into the southwestern Missouri town of Racine, which is located 20 miles to the east of Picher. There are reports of at least ten deaths in southwestern Missouri from the tornadoes.
Three teams from the National Weather Service have been surveying the damage in Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas to determine the number and strength of the tornadoes. Right now, it appears at least eight tornadoes touched down Saturday afternoon and evening.
More than 25-hundred homes and businesses remained without power Sunday night.
We will continue to update this story with additional details as they become available.