Seminole cleaning up after tornado damages downtown, schools, residential areas

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SEMINOLE, Okla. — FOX23 News sent a crew to Seminole to talk with residents, state and city leaders about the clean up that’s taking place one day after a tornado caused extensive damage to the downtown and some surrounding neighborhoods. The Seminole tornado will be rated at least an EF2.

JT Palmer, an investigator with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office said the tornado touched down about 6:45 p.m. in Maud, Okla. and traveled northeast to the city of Seminole, Okla. causing extensive damage.

He said a secondary storm set in around 8:30 p.m., causing damage west and east of Seminole all the way up to Cromwell, Okla.

Palmer estimated more than 100 homes and businesses were damaged in Seminole county. However there were no serious injuries or deaths. He said almost every business has damage downtown.

The winds tore off a large section of a roof on a residential building downtown, now part of the roof hangs down over the sidewalk on the front of the building.

>>>MORE: VIDEO: Gov. Stitt tours the damage in Seminole left by a tornado

City Manager Steve Saxon is hoping the recovery will be a matter of days, not months. When FOX23 spoke with him on Thursday over the lunch hour, he said they were still without water and power in parts of the city. Schools are closed until Monday.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister toured tornado damage at two schools Thursday afternoon, including the Academy of Seminole, a public charter school, where portable classrooms have been declared a total loss.

“The damage and devastation is just incredible,” she said, “and when you think had this happened just three or four hours earlier, what that would have meant for the safety of students and staff.”

While the main building on campus is salvageable, there’s no longer a roof. Hofmeister said the state will do what it can to help with the recovery of this public charter school.

Hofmeister also met with several teachers and staff who were out cleaning up on Thursday.

Special Education Director, Tiffani Coker, said she’s thankful to be alive. She came to the school Wednesday night with her three boys and husband to hide in the gun vault because the family does not have a cellar at home.

When the tornado hit, she said it did sound like a train, but that wasn’t all she heard.

“There was also glass breaking and metal twisting and my seven year old screaming and all of those noises together it was just chaos,” she added. Seminole Middle School fared much better, suffering only roof damage in the gymnasium.

Clean up efforts continue downtown where there’s a police presence amidst piles of crumpled metal and people could be spotted working on top of buildings.

Utility crews are also busy at work trying to restore power and cleanup continues in a residential area not far from downtown where we found a home missing a part of its roof.

City Manager Steve Saxon said recovery is a major undertaking.

“We’re going to make sure everyone’s safe, power and water restored,” he said.

Saxon said the city is also under a boil order.

Thankfully there were no fatalities and no serious injuries. When we asked Saxon what people could do to help, he said they need prayers.

Seminole resident Brooke Dragich and her three kids are now looking for a new place to live after losing a portion of their roof in the tornado. She was told her current house, which she rents, is no longer habitable now that a large portion of the roof is missing.

A part of the roof collapsed on her couch, coffee table, and the dining room table. She said her daughters’ room is also flooded now.

Thankfully she and the kids took shelter in a friend’s ground cellar Wednesday night, but it was still a scary experience for everyone.

Dragich said she has renters’ insurance, and is now trying a find another place to call home, in Seminole if possible where her kids have many friends:

“I’m worried about it, I’m stressed but I have a good support system and we’ll just take it step by step,” she said.