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"Some folks want to stay there and keep an eye on their property," he said.
It was not clear if the sirens could have prevented the deaths had they sounded.
Many residents in Tornado Alley have grown up counting on sirens to warn them when a twister has been spotted on the ground, but emergency officials say that can be one of the least reliable methods, especially when a tornado hits at night.
"An outdoor warning system should never be the only way or even the primary way to receive a warning," said Rick Smith, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Our message that we preach is you have to have several ways to receive a warning."
Curt and Andra Raymer had taken steps to prepare, but thought they were in the clear until a television meteorologist warned Woodward residents to take cover just minutes before the storm hit.
"We heard the sirens yesterday afternoon, and they blew for 40 minutes," said Andra Raymer, 44, as she picked through the rubble of her home that was covered with insulation, broken glass and splintered wood. "Last night when this one came through, we didn’t hear anything."
The couple and their dogs took shelter in an interior bathroom as the roof was lifted from their home and smashed in their backyard.
"We’re just lucky to be alive," Curt Raymer said. "We walked out into the street and just couldn’t believe it."
Emergency management officials urged residents to take advantage of weather radios, smartphones and television warnings to keep them up to speed when weather turns dangerous. Sirens are not designed to wake residents who are sleeping or to penetrate the thick insulation in today’s homes, said Albert Ashwood, the director of Oklahoma’s Office of Emergency Management.
"Sirens are referred to as outdoor warning systems, and that’s what they’re there for: to tell people who are outdoors to come inside and find out what’s going on," Ashwood said.
Murphy reported from Woodward, Okla. Associated Press writers Roxanna Hegeman in Wichita, Kan., and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, contributed to this report.
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