Although the monstrous twisters that ripped through Oklahoma have passed, officials say the death toll from Friday’s violent weather system may steadily climb in the days ahead as law enforcement agencies and medical teams recover the bodies of people believed to have been swept away by furious floodwaters.
Police cannot provide an exact number of people thought to have died after being pulled out of their vehicles or wrenched out of their loved ones’ arms during the height of flooding late Friday and early Saturday. But when authorities take an accounting of the devastation wrought by the wild weather system, flooding victims may make up nearly half of the list of fatalities, according to Oklahoma City Police Department spokesman Lt. Jay Barnett.
“It’s not a reach to say at this point that the greatest threat was flooding, not tornadoes,” Barnett said.
Officials began to reckon with the aftermath of Friday’s flooding as reports emerged that a 4-year-old girl died after being swept away by up to four feet of raging waters. The young girl and her family had taken shelter in a ditch just south of downtown Oklahoma City when the 4-year-old was somehow caught up in the torrents and pulled away, according to Barnett.
It was unclear Saturday evening if the girl is one of the nine people who died as five tornadoes bludgeoned the Oklahoma City area for the second time in the span of less than two weeks.
A man’s body was found just after 1 p.m. local time in the city of Harrah, according to Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Myers. The man is believed to have been en route to work early Saturday when he was swept off the roadway either behind the wheel of his car or standing near it, Myers said.
Myers could not confirm whether the unidentified man is one of the nine fatalities confirmed by the Chief Medical Examiner’s office.
The Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told NBC News that seven adults and two children are confirmed dead, including a mother and her small child, who were tugged out of their vehicle during the peak of the twisters’ tear through the city.
In neighboring Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon said Saturday that authorities had confirmed that three people died in three different counties due to localized high water flooding.
Nixon warned residents that flooding remains an imminent threat throughout the region as rivers continue to rise to dangerous levels.
"Because many streams and rivers are overflowing their banks, we will need to stay vigilant in both monitoring and responding to flooding across the state as well. This remains a dangerous situation," Nixon said Saturday.
In Arkansas, a sheriff was killed and three others are missing after flash-flooding slammed Scott County on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Although the twisters that touched down in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas mangled buildings and claimed lives, flooding may prove to have been just as lethal, Barnett said.
“The death toll will rise, if not in the hours to come, then certainly in the days to come,” said Barnett.