Gov. Kevin Stitt: Sulphur tornado damage the worst he's seen as governor

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency in 12 counties after severe storms and several tornadoes on Saturday tore across Oklahoma, leaving at least four dead and 100 injured.

Stitt toured heavily damaged areas in downtown Sulphur on Sunday. He said it was the most damage he's seen as a result of a tornado in his six years as governor.

"I've seen a lot of damage, I've been around the state,” Stitt said at a press conference in Sulphur. “This is my sixth year. But what I saw in downtown Sulphur is unbelievable."

The state of emergency is for Carter, Cotton, Garfield, Hughes, Kay, Lincoln, Love, Murray, Okfuskee, Oklahoma, Payne and Pontotoc counties.

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks beside his son Houston during a press conference in Sulphur, Okla., Sunday, April 28, 2024. Sulphur was hit by a tornado the night before killing one person.
Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks beside his son Houston during a press conference in Sulphur, Okla., Sunday, April 28, 2024. Sulphur was hit by a tornado the night before killing one person.

While the National Weather Service has not yet confirmed the number of tornadoes, storm damage has been reported in multiple areas across the state, including Sulphur, Holdenville and Marietta.

The Oklahoma medical examiner has confirmed three storm-related fatalities: two in Holdenville and one in Marietta. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Sunday announced a fourth fatality in Sulphur.

Hughes County authorities confirmed one of the victims was a 4-month-old child. The other victim there was an adult male.

OG&E reported more than 31,000 customers were without power early Sunday.

"We'll do whatever we can to help put the pieces back together," Stitt said. "Thank goodness it was a downtown, that there wasn't a lot of people here at 10:30 at night. You just can't believe the destruction."

Tornado damage in Sulphur, Okla., Sunday, April 28, 2024, after severe storms hit the area the night before.
Tornado damage in Sulphur, Okla., Sunday, April 28, 2024, after severe storms hit the area the night before.

Sulphur, Oklahoma tornado started in Chickasaw National Recreation Area

In Sulphur, about 85 miles south of Oklahoma City, the storm appears to have blown into the downtown district from the Chickasaw National Recreational Area on the south side of State Highway 7.

Next door to Raina's Sports Lounge on Muskogee Avenue (which was flattened), the roof was torn from a building, while a large, two-story building just north of it appeared to have had all of its windows blown out.

The Artesian, a historic hotel rebuilt by the Chickasaw Nation in 2006, was missing some windows on the west side of its building.

A newer, two-story pre-cast concrete building north of the Artesian also appeared to have been damaged, while older homes northeast of the hotel also were hit by the storm.

Much of the downtown area was cordoned off with yellow caution tape.


Stitt said Oklahoma already has been in touch with the Federal Emergency Management Administration, President Biden and is working with Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall and Oklahoma Sen. Greg McCortney, both of who represent the area, to prioritize making state funds available to help the area recover.

Statewide, more than 100 people were injured during the storms, Oklahoma's Office of Emergency Management reported Sunday afternoon.

"We think this was an F-4, just blowing right through downtown here," Stitt said. "Thank goodness there were not a lot of people downtown. You just can't believe the destruction, it seems like every business downtown in Sulphur was destroyed."

McCall said Sulphur's damage is heartbreaking.

"The loss of life is the most prescious thing," McCall said. "There are a lot of Oklahomans hurting right now, but the level of damage right here in Sulphur is unbelievable to see."

Annie Mack Vest, director of Oklahoma's Office of Emergency Management, said Oklahoma activated its emergency operations center Thursday, anticipating the weekend's potential for widespread storms.

On Sunday, the center continued coordinating search and relief efforts, primarily making sure people who lost their homes had safe places to stay during the coming days and weeks.

FEMA already has disaster recovery teams in the state, based upon an emergency declaration made by President Joe Biden.

Vest said she was unaware of any reports of anyone missing as of Sunday afternoon.

"We have a lot of nursing homes and hospitals that took hits last night and are making sure they have proper generator power," she said. "Making sure people have what they need is the most important thing right now."

Owners of a furniture store and a machine shop on the north side of State Highway 7 who were beginning to salvage what they could Sunday declined to interview with The Oklahoman.

Dollar Tree warehouse near Marietta destroyed by tornado, shuts down I-35

Damage wasn't just limited to downtown Sulphur. About 50 miles further south near Marietta, a tornado tore through a Dollar Tree Distribution Center, struck a hospital and caused numerous wrecks on I-35. The interstate was closed for about nine hours by Oklahoma's Highway Patrol while debris and accidents were cleared from the highway.

In Holdenville, about 80 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, dozens of people on Sunday were removing items from a destroyed house along Highway 48 north of town.

Snapped trees and fallen power poles could be seen alongside the highway, with debris scattered everywhere.

Jackie Keesee said a distant relative of hers who is an 85-year-old woman lived in the house and rode out the storm overnight. The woman just moved back a couple weeks ago after having to leave because of storms in September.

“Her roof was over the road,” Keesee said. “I’m astonished that she survived unharmed and to be in the path again so soon.”


At an emergency command center, Chris Miller with Hughes County Emergency Medical Services confirmed that in addition to the two fatalities in Holdenville, at least four people were injured, including three seriously.

Hughes County Sheriff Marcia Maxwell said she had been awake for about 36 hours.

“It looked very large,” Maxwell said of the tornado. “When we left our house, we could see power outages. We’ve seen some little ones here and there, but this one was very impressive.”

At First Baptist Church Holdenville, Rev. James Poulain said the electricity came back on just before service.

“We spent some time in prayer for the community as well as the other communities that were affected,” he said. “It happens a little too often. I’d be OK with a little less often.”

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced Sunday the state's price gouging statute is now in effect.

The statute prohibits an increase of more than 10% for the price of goods and services after an emergency has been declared. It triggers automatically after the governor issues a state of emergency.

Drummond also warned residents with storm damage to avoid door-to-door contractors who demand upfront payment.

To report instances of price gouging, residents can contact he AG's consumer protection unit at (833) 681-1895.

“Our prayers are with the communities that have experienced such tragic loss and now face the hard work of recovery,” Drummond said in a news release Sunday. “In the aftermath of these devastating storms, unscrupulous actors should know that my office will absolutely not tolerate exorbitant prices on goods and services desperately needed by Oklahomans during this difficult time.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Sulphur, Oklahoma tornado damage the worst Gov. Stitt has seen