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Search for Survivors

Crews Sift Through Rubble In Oklahoma

May 21, 2013
By NOMAAN MERCHANT - Associated Press , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MOORE, Okla. - The state medical examiner's office has revised the death toll from a tornado in an Oklahoma City suburb to 24 people, including seven children.

Spokeswoman Amy Elliot said this morning that she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm. Authorities said initially that as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children.

Teams are continuing to search the rubble in Moore, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, after the Monday afternoon tornado.

Article Photos

AP Photos
Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City, Okla., Monday.

The storm stripped leaves off trees and left scores of blocks in Moore barren and dark. Rescuers walked through neighborhoods where Monday's powerful twister flattened home after home, listening for voices calling out from the rubble.

A helicopter buzzed above, shining lights on crews below.

As Monday turned into today, the town of Moore, a community of 41,000 people 10 miles south of the city, braced for another long, harrowing day.

Fact Box

DEADLY TORNADOES

- 695 deaths. March 18, 1925, in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

- 216 deaths. April 5, 1936, in Tupelo, Miss.

- 203 deaths. April 6, 1936, in Gainesville, Ga.

- 181 deaths. April 9, 1947, in Woodward, Okla.

- 158 deaths. May 22, 2011, in Joplin, Mo.

- 143 deaths. April 24, 1908, in Amite, La., and Purvis, Miss.

- 116 deaths. June 8, 1953, in Flint, Mich.

- 114 deaths. May 11, 1953 in Waco, Texas.

- 114 deaths. May 18, 1902 in Goliad, Texas.

- 103 deaths. March 23, 1913, in Omaha, Neb.

"As long as we are here ... we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors," said Trooper Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children. Elliott, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office, said there could be as many as 40 more fatalities from Monday's tornado.

On Monday evening, families anxiously waited at churches to hear if their loved ones were alright. A man with a megaphone stood near St. Andrews United Methodist Church and called out the names of surviving children. Children and parents hugged as they reunited. Other parents waited, hoping to hear their sons' and daughters' names as the night dragged on.

Crews continued their desperate search and rescue effort throughout the night at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm had ripped off the school's roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.

Children from the school were among the dead, but several students were pulled out alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled 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. Some students looked dazed, others terrified.

James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching twister and ran to the school where his 5-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. Rushing believed he would be safer there.

"About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart," he said.

Another school, Briarwood Elementary, was also damaged by the tornado.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers. Fallin also spoke Monday with President Barack Obama, who declared a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen marching slowly across the green landscape. As it churned through the community, the twister scattered shards of wood, awnings and glass all over the streets.

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.

 
 

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