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Unsettled in New England and the Southwest; Mild Across the Plains and Rockies

Unsettled weather, including periods of locally heavy rainfall, is expected to persist across portions of New England and the Southwest U.S. through much of the weekend. Elsewhere, mainly tranquil conditions are forecast. Well above normal temperatures are likely across parts of the northern and central Plains into the northern Rockies. Read More >

Slide 8

Shields Boulevard Overpass in Moore, Oklahoma

The second fatality occurred at the Shields Boulevard overpass at its junction with Interstate 35 in the City of Moore. These photographs show many of the same things as the pictures of the 16th Street overpass. The top two photographs were taken by the author in late September. On the upper right is a view, looking south, of the west side of the bridge where the people were huddled. In the drainage ditch in the foreground, is a small memorial to the lady killed at this location. Her body was not found until one week after the tornado. The spot where her body was eventually found was buried underneath 6 to 8 feet of debris immediately after the tornado passed. On the upper left is a close up of this view, looking underneath the bridge. Notice the complete lack of any girders or support beams, simply smooth concrete up the embankment and smooth concrete overhead. There is absolutely nothing to hang on to underneath this bridge, and nothing to offer any protection whatsoever from flying debris. The picture on the lower right was taken by Chuck Doswell about 1 week after the tornado, and shortly before the lady’s body was found. In the photo near the shadow of the overpass is someone looking for the woman's body; they found the body shortly after the photo was taken. The photo's view is to the north, and from the other side of the bridge than the upper two pictures. Note the complete scouring of all vegetation and even a considerable amount of topsoil in spots. This explicitly illustrates what a tremendous danger exists from flying debris. The lower left photograph was taken the day after the tornado from the air, looking northeast. Again, it can be seen that the overpass experienced a direct hit. The tornado was doing F4 intensity damage at this time.

The events at the Shields Boulevard overpass are quite frightening and clearly illustrate many of the ‘non-weather’ issues of why this practice is so egregious. The Interstate highway eventually became blocked by people parking near the bridge to seek shelter there. Per eyewitness accounts, many vehicles began parking on the shoulder under the bridge as much as 10 to 15 minutes before the tornado actually stuck that location. Eventually, of course, all of the space of the shoulder was taken, so motorists began parking in the right-hand traffic lane, then the left-hand lane, and so-on until all of the roadway was taken by parked vehicles and the free flow of traffic was completely blocked.

One particularly frightening story was told by Brian Hansen, who works for the City of Moore Emergency Management. Brian was attempting to get to the Moore Emergency Management Operations Center to assist that night and was caught in the traffic jam at the Shields Boulevard overpass. He attempted to fight his way through, but eventually became trapped 3 car lengths from the front, directly under the overpass. The traffic jam eventually grew to a quarter-mile long "parking lot" by the time the tornado crossed the highway. Brian said the vehicles were packed so tightly under the bridge, he could not even open the door to get out of his truck. He eventually chose to ride out the storm on the floor of his truck. When asked why he chose that option, he stated that he knew he was in big trouble no matter what, but that by staying in the truck and getting as low as possible might offer some protection against flying debris. As it turned out, he miraculously walked away with only minor injuries and was able to help in the search and rescue efforts near the bridge after the tornado. However, what is somewhat of a mystery is why more of the vehicles did not become airborne, in which case Brian would likely not have been so lucky. It is speculated that the vehicles were packed tightly enough together that the combined weight helped prevent them from going airborne, but the truth is we will really never know.

The people who were up under the bridge were not as fortunate as Brian. There were approximately 12 people under the bridge (the exact number is not known). Perhaps it's possible to argue that since there were 12 there and only 1 died, that's not bad. Unfortunately, what has not been well-publicized are the horrific injuries suffered by all but one of the survivors under the bridge. The casualties all had serious injuries, some life-threatening, from the effects of flying debris. Their injuries included, but are not limited to: compound fractures and shattered bones, missing fingers, missing ears, missing noses, and being impaled by pieces of shingles, 2x4s, etc. The most important point here is this: seeking shelter under the overpass resulted in the highway becoming blocked, trapping people in the path of a violent tornado with no options other than a ditch, an overpass, or their vehicle - all terrible options. In effect, those who sought shelter under the overpass made a bad decision that put many more people than themselves into a life-threatening situation, unnecessarily .

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