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Oklahoma City survivor describes her flight from killer twister

A woman is pulled from tornado debris at the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)
<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

As a massive tornado bore down on Oklahoma City, Julie Jones and several neighbors in the suburb of Moore rushed to their cars and fled south.

“This one was a monster. It was huge, dark and scary,” said Jones, 54. “It was just this big, dark menacing act of nature coming toward you.”

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The twister, which packed 200-mph winds, leveled neighborhoods and smashed into the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore. Officials said the death toll stands at 51, including several children, and was likely to rise. At least 120 people were hospitalized.

PHOTOS: Tornadoes hit Oklahoma

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Jones and her neighbors weren’t the only ones fleeing by car: They ran into a traffic jam.

“It was crazy. We could see the tornado in the rear-view mirror getting closer, closer and closer, and we’re stopped in traffic,” said Jones, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. “Traffic finally moved and everybody was going east, but a small group of us made a right turn and headed south.”

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MAP: Path of destruction

Soon, Jones and others pulled over on a hill and snapped photos of the tornado from a distance. When it passed, she returned to her cul-de-sac, which had been largely spared. But blocks away, the scene was of utter devastation.

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“The most terrifying thing was returning to the neighborhood and seeing what it did,” Jones said. “You’re driving past the homes and you think, ‘That person had a great house and that person kept their lawn beautiful,’ and it doesn’t matter because they were all flattened. It shakes you.”

hector.becerra@latimes.com

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[For the record, 8:19 p.m. May 20: An earlier version of this post referred to Moore and her neighbors. Actually, it’s Jones and her neighbors.]


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