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In Okla., good forecasts and good luck

Residents of the state capital area watched the progress of 3 twisters on TV and took shelter.

PIEDMONT, Okla. - When three tornadoes marched toward Oklahoma City and its suburbs, thousands of people in the path benefited from good forecasts, luck, and live television to avoid the kind of catastrophe that befell Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo.

Even though more than a dozen people died in the latest round of violent weather, which hit in the evening, many families had plenty of time to take shelter because schools and offices closed early. Even stragglers were able to get to safety because TV tracked the twisters' every turn.

"We live in Oklahoma and we don't mess around," Lori Jenkins of Guthrie said after emerging from a neighbor's storm shelter to find her carport crumpled and her home damaged.

In Joplin, where the death toll was raised to 125 Wednesday, rescue and recovery work continued but found no new survivors. Structural engineers went inside the ruins of St. John's Medical Center, crippled by the twister, to see if the hospital could be saved.

Residents of Oklahoma City, which has been struck by more tornadoes than any other U.S. city - 146 times, according to the federal government's Storm Prediction Center - knew the storms were coming, though anxiety perhaps ran higher than usual after last month's twister outbreak in the South killed more than 300 people and the storm Sunday in Joplin.

Television helicopters broadcast live footage as the system approached the metropolitan area of 1.2 million - calling out to specific communities, such as Piedmont, to "Take cover now!"

In Guthrie, 30 miles north of the capital, Ron Brooks was watching TV when he learned a tornado was barreling toward him. He heeded the forecaster's warning, scooped up his two children, and took cover with his wife in their laundry room.

They emerged 20 minutes later, relieved to learn that the tornado had passed just north of their house.

Broadcasters offered live coverage of the storms for two hours before the bad weather actually hit during the evening rush hour.

Across the border in Arkansas, people in the hamlet of Denning didn't have that sort of warning. A tornado killed at least one person there. Storms left three others dead elsewhere in Arkansas and killed two in Kansas.

The storms arrived in Denning in the darkness, with a warning posted only about 10 minutes before a tornado nearly obliterated the town of 270 shortly after midnight.