Dozens of persons were killed and hundreds more were injured late yesterday as tornadoes criss-crossed the Texas-Oklahoma border in a vicious swath of destruction.
Witnesses counted at least 33 dead in Wichita Falls, Tex., anx 15 more in the "Tornado Alley" area. Two busy Wichita Falls shopping centers were leveled, and National Guard and volunteer personnel were still searching the rubble early today.
An estimated 700 persons were treated for injuries in Wichita Falls, said Dr. James Lee, Civil Defense medical coordinator. He said at least 500 persons would required surgery; hospitalization or extended doctors' care.
Nursing homes in the area said they had treated in least 200 persons for minor injuries in addition to those seeking aid at Bethania Hospital and Wichita General Hospital.
An undetermined number of persons were trapped in the rubble of the Sikes and Southmoor shopping centers, and others were trapped in demolished buildings elsewhere in Wichita Falls, authorities said.
Gov. William Clements ordered 150 National Guard troops into the devastated area to aid in search and rescue operations.
The Owens & Brumley Funeral Home said it had received 10 bodies, and witnesses counted 10 others at a makeshift morgue near the Southmoor Shopping Center.
Twenty cars were smashed under a bridge and into an abutment. Witnesses said the roofs of some vehicles , A22, Col. 1 were sheared off and the wreckage was bloodied.
A safe in a National Guard armory exploded, exposing shattered M16 rifles and other weapons. Mobile homes were blown across a highway.
Efforts to free the trapped were concentrated at the two shopping centers said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Barbara Henderson. Elsewhere in the city, National Guard troops and volunteers patroled to prevent looting.
Mayor Kenneth Hill urged residents in a radio broadcast to "please go home." But hundreds were reported homeless.
The Red Cross issued urgent appeals for blood and fuel to operate emergency vehicles.
Tornadoes also struck Vernon and Lockett, Tex., and Lawton, Okla., as they swept northeast over rolling, barren country of sage brush and mesquite trees.
Lawton reported four confirmed deaths, including a man electrocuted when a 220-volt power line came down in a pool of water. Ten were confirmed dead in the Vernon area, said Justice of the Peace Joe Krebs. Another death was confirmed 17 miles away in Harrold, Tex.
"We haven't had time to stop and confirm how many dead we have," said Lawton Civil Defense spokesman Wes Miller.
Miller said two trucks carrying hazardous chemicals were overturned-one just a block from a hospital. He said one of them carried chlorine and the other muriatic acid.
About 150 homes in a 20-block area of Lawton, a community of 75,000 adjacent to Fort Sill Military Reservation, were destroyed, officials said, and temporary shelters were set up at a church and the Red Cross Center.
At least two persons were pinned in a motel and a child was reported missing, authorities said. One man was killed when a cement block fell on him.
At least 700 persons were injured in Wichita Falls, 92 in Lawton-eight critically-and 66 in Vernon, authorities said.
Residents of the area-from about 150 miles northwest of Dallas to 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City-call it "Tornado Alley."
Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh activated the National Guard to assist in the damaged area, said press secretary Carl Clark.
U.S. 287 between Vernon and Wichita Falls was closed due to overturned cars.
"It looks like we have been bombed," a Vernon resident said. The Wilbarger Memorial Auditorium in Vernon was converted into an emergency shelter and the National Guard Armory was pressed into service as a temporary morgue.
The tornado hit Vernon about 3:50 p.m. and lasted about 10 minutes. It cut a quarter-mile path through the community. A man whose house was blown away was found dead in a field.
General Hospital administrator Billy Robertson said the hospital was full and some of the injured were sent to hospitals as far away as Wichita Falls and Altus Okla.
"The hospitals and Civil Defense are in absolute chaos," said Wichita Falls Record-News City Editor Bill McGee.
McGee said the tornado caused heavy damage to an apartment complex and two residential areas. It also damaged Midwestern University and a high school.
At Wichita Falls, Bethania Hospital was operating with emergency power and spokeswaman Joyce Warren said patients were in the corridors, the lobby and even the plush board room.
She said "whole neighborhoods" were blown away by the tornado.
"It just seemed to hop all over town," she said. "Cars are in terrible condition-many, many, many cars. Our biggest shopping center is totally wiped out.
"There are lots of cases of whole neighborhoods being blown away. One lady was at a pizza hunt and a car was picked up [from the parking lot] and landed on a nearby home. One other person [a hospital employee] lost his home. Then he took his family to a relative's house and it was also wiped out."
The tornado also demolished a power plant knocking out lights in Wichita Falls. A 17 block area of the city was destroyed according to the department of public safety.