Three college students who were traveling back from storm chasing in Kansas died in a car crash Friday evening, authorities said.
The trio of University of Oklahoma meteorology students died in the crash shortly before 11:30 p.m. Friday, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Nicholas Nair, 20, of Denton, Texas, Gavin Short, 19, of Grayslake, Illinois, and Drake Brooks, 22, of Evansville, Indiana, were observing the tornado that hit parts of Kansas and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and buildings. The storm injured several people and left more than 15,000 without power, officials said Saturday.
The three men were in a car that Nair was driving southbound on Interstate 35, where the vehicle hydroplaned and was struck by a tractor-trailer rig in Tonkawa, about 85 miles north of Oklahoma City, according to the highway patrol report.
In a statement, the University of Oklahoma said the institution was “devastated” by the deaths.
“The university is devastated to learn of the tragic passing of three students,” it read. “Each were valued and loved members of our community.”
More than 1,000 buildings were affected when a twister swept through Andover on Friday evening, according to authorities. Early Saturday morning, emergency crews found a more widespread path of destruction than was previously forecasted.
“We now know that our damage path extended approximately 3 1/2 to 4 miles to the north of where we believed it to have ended last night,” said Andover Deputy Fire Chief Mike Roosevelt at a briefing.
Despite the destruction, there were no reported fatalities or critical injuries from the tornado itself. Officials said only a few injuries had been reported. In Sedgwick County, three people were injured, including one woman who sustained serious injuries.
Search and rescue operations continued Saturday with more than 200 emergency responders from 30 agencies. Officials kept volunteers away from the damage until a secondary search of debris is done
Andover Fire Chief Chad Russell said earlier that some neighborhood homes “were completely blown away.”
Russel said that there are homes that were knocked completely off their foundations and entire neighborhoods wiped out.
City Hall, the Andover YMCA and Prairie Creek Elementary School were among buildings heavily damaged.
Field crews from the National Weather Service worked Saturday to determine the severity of the twister, according to meteorologist Kevin Darmofal at the Wichita office.
Flor and Aldo Delgado said they prayed in the basement of their home in Andover as a tornado passed above them, destroying their home and cars.
“The lights started flickering and eventually went out, and within a minute from that the whole house started shaking and it was so loud. We started feeling water hitting our faces, and there was just dust everywhere. It lasted for what felt like a minute that it was right above us,” Aldo Delgado said.
Flor Delgado said she could hear their home being torn apart as they prayed for their safety, the Wichita Eagle reported.
“In the moment I realized there is absolutely nothing we could do. I knew my husband felt it too because he was calm and comforting me, but at one point he just starts losing it and crying. I could hear his voice cracking as he’s praying,” she said.
When the tornado passed, their home, cars and personal items were gone. The couple left with only the clothes they were wearing when they weathered the storm in the basement.
“We didn’t even have our wedding rings on at the time,” Flor Delgado added.
Gov. Laura Kelly declared a State of Disaster Emergency for the hardest-hit areas.
Evergy, a utility company, said about 15,000 customers lost power during the tornado and that work continued to restore electricity. Any broken gas and water lines were shut off and by noon there were no known active leaks.
Along with the tornadoes, large hail was reported in several towns across the Plains, according to the National Weather Service and storm spotters.
With Post wires