Tornadoes and extreme weather tear through the southern Plains

"I just thank God we're all OK. That's all that matters," Oklahoma resident Lisa Watson said after a tree crashed through her home.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By David K. Li and Phil Helsel

Hundreds of Oklahomans were told to evacuate Tuesday night after severe weather and heavy rains battered parts of the Midwest and Great Plains, dumping 3 to 4 inches of rain over 30 hours.

The town of Webbers Falls, a town of about 600 residents about 60 miles southeast of Tulsa, was told to evacuate during a meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Sandy Wright said.

"We were informed tonight by the county emergency management that this is supposed to be a 500-year-flood," she said, adding that the water from the Arkansas River was not yet into the town.

"A lot of people are packing up and leaving tonight," she said in a phone interview early Wednesday. A gym was opened in the neighboring town of Gore, and Wright expected Red Cross shelters to also be established.

Oklahoma's emergency management department reported numerous water rescues Monday and Tuesday.

A woman who was not immediately identified died Tuesday in Payne County in an apparent drowning after she drove around a high-water sign and the vehicle was swept off the road and became submerged in 10 feet of water, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said in an incident report obtained by NBC affiliate KJRH of Tulsa.

The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma said Tuesday that it found evidence of five tornadoes — ranging from EF0 to EF1 — and was investigating other reports from Monday and Tuesday.

A tree crashed through the home of Lisa Watson, but the Tulsa, Oklahoma, mom said she couldn't care less about property damage as long as her family was safe.

"I'm just trying to take a breath. It was so scary. I just thank God we're all OK," Watson said, her voice quivering in an interview with KJRH. "That's all that matters is we have our lives. Thank God for that."

She added: "You can replace your home and your cars, not your family."

Lisa Watson speaks to a reporter after surviving a storm in Tulsa, Oklahoma.KJRH

Watson recounted the terrifying, early morning moments when she and her husband realized they needed to take cover.

"Yes, we were in bed and then the alarms were going off, so my husband and me, the first thing to do was get the kids," Watson recalled. "We got the kids, made sure they were OK, and then we got them and put them in the hallway. We got blankets and put it on top of us and just huddled together and stayed and prayed."

Residents of the southwestern Oklahoma town of Mangum were picking up the pieces Tuesday from a tornado that struck Monday. While there was property damage in the rural community, somehow the livestock survived.

"The pigs are walking around wondering what happened to their house," Greer County Emergency Management Director Glynadee Edwards said.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency due to flooding and severe weather.

"The very heavy rainfall yesterday and today, combined with saturated soil and very high water levels on many rivers and streams have created dangerous conditions around the state," Parson said in a statement Tuesday.

Storms Monday evening flipped campers at Lucas Oil Speedway in Hickory County, Missouri, injuring seven people, four of whom were taken to hospitals, the Associated Press reported. The speedway's grandstand also was destroyed, forcing cancellation of racing this weekend that was expected to draw about 3,000 campers.

The speedway said in a statement that "a severe storm and possible tornado has done major damage," but it was thankful there were no fatalities.

Rain was forecast to end in the St. Louis area overnight into Wednesday, but as of Tuesday evening most of it and a large part of the state were under flash flood watches or warnings, according to the National Weather Service.

The storms that swept through the region dumped more than 3 inches of rain on parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, and those areas could potentially see more rain and thunderstorms Wednesday night into Thursday, the weather service said. By Tuesday night tornado watches were no longer in effect.

The weather service in Norman said there would be a risk of severe thunderstorms across central Oklahoma and northwestern Texas on Wednesday afternoon. Severe thunderstorms could also hit parts of the Southern Plains on Thursday.

Police in Erie, Kansas, announced a voluntary evacuation over fears that nearby Neosho River would reach 41 feet by Wednesday afternoon and was expected to stay there for at least 24 hours. Police said low-lying areas in the town of around 1,100 in the southeastern part of the state should expect a good possibility of flooding, and that a 9 p.m. curfew would be enforced starting Wednesday.

A woman in Oklahoma City desperately held on to tree branches as fast-rushing waters overtook N.W. 178th Street and Council Road.

A helicopter for NBC affiliate KFOR captured the dramatic moments at about 10 a.m. local time when bystanders used tow rope and jumper cables to pull the woman to safety.

Associated Press contributed.