A massive tornado destroyed the suburbs of Oklahoma City yesterday afternoon. According to latest counts, at least 51 people were killed, including at least 20 children, and those numbers are expected to climb, according to WRAL.
The storm left neighborhoods in Moore, OK barren and dark. Rescuers walked through neighborhoods where yesterday’s massive tornado flattened buildings and destroyed trees to see if they could hear any voices calling out from the rubble. A helicopter provided light to searching crews.
More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children. Amy Elliott, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, said this morning that there could be as many as 40 more fatalities from yesterday’s tornado.
While some parents and children hugged each other as they reunited, others were left to wait, fearing the worst as the night dragged on.
The search-and-rescue efforts continued throughout the night at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm had ripped off the school’s roof and knocked down walls as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms to avoid the storm’s wrath.
Children from the school were among the dead, but several students were pulled out alive earlier yesterday from under a collapsed wall and other debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage center in the parking lot.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers.
Fallin also spoke yesterday with President Barack Obama, who declared a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts, according to reports.
In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen moving slowly across the countryside. As it marched through the community, the twister spewed wood, awnings, glass and other debris all over the streets.
The tornado also destroyed the community hospital and some retail stores. Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis watched it pass through from his jewelry shop. He reported that all of his employees were hiding in the store’s vault.
A map provided by the National Weather Service showed that the storm began west of Newcastle and crossed the Canadian River into Oklahoma City’s rural far southwestern side about 3 p.m. When it reached Moore, the twister cut a path through the center of town before lifting back into the sky at Lake Stanley Draper.
The National Weather Service issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, the second most-powerful type of twister.
Yesterday’s powerful tornado loosely followed the path of a killer twister that slammed the region in May 1999.
The weather service estimated that Yesterday’s tornado was at least a half-mile wide. The 1999 storm had winds clocked at 300 mph.