A desperate search is underway after a monstrous tornado wiped out a school in Oklahoma City, leaving seven students dead in a pool of water and two dozen missing.
Plaza Towers Elementary school was in the direct path of the giant twister which roared through the suburbs obliterating entire neighborhoods and pulverizing a 30-square-mile stretch with winds up to 200 mph.
At least 91 people have been killed and todayunder flood lights, emergency crews dug through debris and used jackhammers to tear away concrete, hoping to recover the bodies of up to 24 students they believe are buried under the rubble.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin expressed her grief on behalf of her state for the parents of the missing children, aged between five and eight, as the death toll across the heavily-populated Oklahoma City suburb of Moore escalated to 91 people, with some 233 injured.
‘Our hearts are broken for the parents that are wondering about the state of their children that had been in the schools that have been hit today,’ Fallin said. ‘I know that there are families wondering where their loved ones are.’
She added that rescuers were ‘looking under every single piece of debris’ for the missing.
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Horror: Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City. The desperate search continued overnight for two dozen children feared dead after yesterday’s monstrous tornado, which already took the lives of seven of their classmates
Shock: Two girls stand in rubble surveying the scene of devastation following the horrific tornado
Survivors: A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, and passed along to rescuers
Brave: Two boys are pulled from beneath a collapsed wall at the Plaza Towers Elementary School following a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma
Lucky ones: A young family comes out of underground bunker after the tornado to scenes of devastation
A boy is pulled from beneath a collapsed wall at the Plaza Towers Elementary School
Desperate: A young girl is pulled from beneath the wall by rescuers as they desperately search for more survivors at the school
Injured: Scores of young children were hurt in the monster twister that laid waste o the land. The walking wounded were helped to a nearby triage centre
Medical help: A woman carries an injured child to a triage center near the Plaza Towers Elementary School
Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City
Heroes: Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a collapsed wall at the Plaza Tower Elementary School to free trapped students
The number of children killed has not yet become clear as rescuers continue to move the rubble overnight
Help: A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore
Poignant: The devastating, two-mile-wide tornado touched down near Oklahoma City and wrecked havoc on the suburbs where lots of families lived
People look through the wreckage of their neighborhood after the tornado devastated the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday.
Rescue teams, including 80 members of the National Guard and search dogs, had reported hearing cries for help from beneath the rubble of the flattened school but the screams reportedly stopped at around 6:30 p.m. local time.
Block after block lay in ruins. Homes were crushed into piles of broken wood. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.
Frantic parents rushed to Plaza Towers Elementary moments after it was pummeled by the storm that has been given a preliminary rating of at least EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale but they were kept back so search teams could hear any survivors calling for help through the rubble.
The families were later taken to a nearby church where they continued the harrowing wait for news of their children. Some, praying their little ones had made it out alive, posted photographs of their children on Facebook and Twitter, desperately hoping they’d be reunited.
According to reports, a number of the 24 missing students were located in churches and triage centers on Monday, though it’s unclear how many.
At least 91 people in the area of Moore, Oklahoma, have now been confirmed dead, with more than 20 of those children. The 20 youngsters include the seven Plaza Towers students as well as a three-month-old baby and a four-year-old child. Another three adults were killed at a 7-Eleven.
Also among those killed, is a family of four with a baby near 4th St. and Telephone Rd. in Moore. Officials said the family tried to take shelter in a freezer.
According to KFOR, more than 233 injured residents had flooded into emergency rooms, including more than 70 children – though these numbers continue to rise.
After the monster tornado struck, around 80 National Guard members were deployed and first responders with dogs were drafted in to help search the debris at Plaza Towers elementary, hoping for a miracle.
Flattened: This aerial photo shows damage to the Plaza Towers Elementary School after massive tornado hit Moore, south of the city.
Crews used jackhammers and sledgehammers to tear away concrete, and chunks were being thrown to the side as the workers dug. National Guard choppers were being used across Moore overnight to detect body heat of survivors trapped under collapsed buildings and other rubble so they could direct rescuers.
Devastating aerial images taken immediately after the tornado show Plaza Towers – as well as hundreds of homes and businesses – completely leveled with cars thrown into the school grounds by powerful storm. Students who were inside the building described clinging to the walls of the hallway where many of them huddled during the storm as the twister battered the school. Others cowered in closets or bathrooms to protect themselves.
One sixth grade boy named Brady told ABC affiliate KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City that he and other students took cover in the boys’ bathroom.
‘Cinderblocks and everything collapsed on them but they were underneath so that kind of saved them a little bit, but I mean they were trapped in there,’ he said.
Frightened third graders were being pulled from the wreckage alive this afternoon as rescue workers passed the children down a human chain before taking them to a triage center set up in the school’s parking lot.
Staff said there had been at least 75 people in the school of around 500 students when the tornado hit. The 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students were taken from the school to a church before the twister barreled through. One teacher said she had laid on six children to protect them. It is believed another teacher put her life at risk to cover three students and suffered serious injuries. It is unclear whether she survived.
President Barack Obama declared that a disaster existed in the State of Oklahoma and called Governor Fallin to offer any kind of assistance the devastated areas required.
The President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie.
Fallin earlier told Oklahomans to ‘stay away and let the our search and rescue teams and families get in there,’ referring to the pulverized school
Many land lines to stricken areas were down and cellphone traffic was congested. Poor cell phone reception was making it difficult for frantic families to connect with each other but a website Safeandwell.com has been set up to assist people who fear for their loved ones.
A reporter said they asked a paramedic about the injured at Plaza Towers, and the medic ‘just shook his head’.
Briarwood Elementary was also entirely flattened after staff sent an email to parents at 2.45pm to say that the school was on lockdown and they would be holding the children at the campus until the storm had passed. At 5pm local time, authorities said all the children were accounted for.
A meteorologist for KFOR branded the aftermath ‘the worst tornado damage in the history of the world’.
Young survivors described how they huddled together with their teachers in the girls’ and boys’ bathroom and how the brave adults tried to keep the kids calm as the massive storm rolled over them. Others said they clung to walls.
‘I had to hold onto the walls to keep myself safe because I didn’t want to fly away with the tornado,’ a young boy, probably around six-years-old, told KFOR.
A Moore resident took a picture of the monstrous twister as it barreled towards the heavily-populated Oklahoma City suburb
A monstrous tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs, flattening entire neighborhoods with winds up to 200 mph, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school
The EF-4 tornado as it approached the town of Moore, Oklahoma, near Oklahoma City, on May 20
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE STORM: HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
The severe thunderstorms that produce tornadoes form where cold dry air meets warm moist tropical air.
The wind coming into the storm starts to swirl and forms a funnel. The air in the funnel spins faster and faster and creates a very low pressure area which sucks more air – and objects on the ground into it.
Most tornadoes spin cyclonically (counter-clockwise) in the Northern hemisphere.
The twisters are most common in a section of the U.S. called Tornado Alley, with most forming in the months of April and May.
The vortex of winds varies in size and shape, and can be hundreds of meters wide.
There are, on average, 1,300 tornadoes each year in the United States, which have caused an average of 65 deaths annually in recent years.
Conditions on the ground do not generally affect the power of a tornado, including terrain and structures like buildings.
Moore, Oklahoma is within the boundaries of Tornado Alley, which includes northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
The city was the site of another devastating tornado that tore through the town in 1999.
Homes have been reduced to piles of trash, with at least 8,000 people without power. Experts warned that there could be multiple casualties after the storm, which had traveled east at around 160mph.
A KFOR reporter says that doctors told her of looting at the hospital damaged by the tornado.
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, pieces of insulation, awnings, shingles and glass all over the streets.
Volunteers and first responders raced to search the debris for survivors.
Chris Calvert saw the menacing tornado from about a mile away.
‘I was close enough to hear it,’ he said. ‘It was just a low roar, and you could see the debris, like pieces of shingles and insulation and stuff like that, rotating around it.’
Even though his subdivision is a mile from the tornado’s path, it was still covered with debris. He found a picture of a small girl on Santa Claus’ lap in his yard.
At Plaza Towers Elementary School, the storm tore off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal.
James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching tornado 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.
Douglas Sherman drove two blocks from his home to help rescue survivors.
‘Just having those kids trapped in that school, that really turns the table on a lot of things,’ he said.
Tiffany Thronesberry said she got an alarming call from her mother, Barbara Jarrell, after the tornado.
‘I got a phone call from her screaming, “Help! Help! I can’t breathe. My house is on top of me!”‘ Thronesberry said.
Thronesberry hurried to her mother’s house, where first responders had already pulled her out. Her mother was hospitalized for treatment for cuts and bruises.
Barbara Garcia, a survivor of the massive tornado, found her dog buried alive under the rubble during her interview with CBS News.
A man with a megaphone stood near a Catholic church Monday evening and called out the names of surviving children. Parents waited nearby, hoping to hear their sons’ and daughters’ names.
Don Denton hadn’t heard from his two sons since the tornado hit the town, but the man who has endured six back surgeries and walks with a severe limp said he walked about two miles as he searched for them.
As reports of the storm came in, Denton’s 16-year-old texted him, telling him to call.
‘I was trying to call him, and I couldn’t get through,’ Denton said.
Eventually, Denton said, his sons spotted him in the crowd. They were fine, but upset to hear that their grandparents’ home was destroyed.
Search and rescue efforts were to continue throughout the night as devastated, and in many cases now homeless, residents, walked around like zombies looking for loved ones. Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson warned that downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.
As the first images of the destruction emerged, yet more tornadoes were also reported to be heading towards Ryan, Wilson and I-35. Experts warned that the area of Meeker could be particularly badly hit.
‘There are so many homes in the air right now,’ storm chase Spencer Basoco told CNN of Moore. ‘It’s destroying everything. There’s so much debris.’
Jamie Shelton, the public information officer for Moore, had pleaded with residents to seek shelter before the storm dissipated. ‘It’s happening as we speak,’ he said. ‘People need to take this seriously… Take precaution, be aware. If you’re outside the area, please pray for us.’
Governor Fallin explained that a school, a GM plant used by defense contractors and an Air Force base were in the storm’s path. The base has one of the largest maintenance and repair centers in the country.
CBS has pulled tonight’s season finale of ‘Mike & Molly,’ which included a storyline that involved a tornado.
It comes as yet more heartbreak for residents of Oklahoma, after a series of deadly tornadoes barreled through Kansas and Oklahoma this weekend, leaving a violent trail of destruction through the Midwest and South, killing two elderly men, injuring 39 people and flattening hundreds of homes.
The Oklahoma City area is prone to storms; in 1999, 36 people died in a tornado.
Several terrifying twisters were spotted on Saturday evening near Rozel, a sparsely populated area in central Kansas. They were also reported to the south in parts of Oklahoma and Iowa.
A National Weather Service advisory warned: ‘You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter.’
‘Complete destruction of neighborhoods, businesses and vehicles will occur. Flying debris will be deadly to people and animals.’
At least four separate tornadoes touched down in central Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon, including one near the town of Shawnee, 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, that laid waste to much of a trailer park.
Two men, 79-year-old Glen Irish and 76-year-old Billy Hutchinson, were found dead after the tornado wrought its devastation on Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Irish’s body was found out in the open after the storm passed through, while Hutchinson was taken to Norman Regional Hospital, but later pronounced dead, according to the medical examiner.
‘You can see where there’s absolutely nothing, then there are places where you have mobile home frames on top of each other, debris piled up,’ Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth said after surviving damage in the Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park.
‘It looks like there’s been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour. It’s pretty bad. It’s pretty much wiped out,’ he said.
Across the state, 21 people were injured, not including those who suffered bumps and bruises and chose not to visit a hospital, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
Booth said six at Steelman Estates were hurt.
On Interstate 40, tractor-trailers were blown off the road, and one was seen hanging over the highway’s overpass.
Dozens of homes were damaged by the other tornadoes that touched down in Oklahoma, but emergency officials had no immediate reports of injuries caused by any of them, including the first of the afternoon that hit Edmond, a suburb north of Oklahoma City, before making its way toward Tulsa, 90 miles to the northeast.
‘I knew it was coming,’ said Randy Grau, who huddled with his wife and two young sons in their Edmond home’s safe room when the tornado hit.
KILLER STORMS: THE DEADLIEST TORNADOES IN U.S. HISTORY
95 deaths. March 18, 1925, in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
The tri-state tornado remains the deadliest in U.S. history.
It crossed from southeastern Missouri, through southern Illinois and then into southwestern Indiana. The tornado carried sheets of iron as far as 50miles away and obliterated entire towns and injured more than 2,000 people.
216 deaths. April 5, 1936, in Tupelo, Mississippi
203 deaths. April 6, 1936, in Gainesville, Georgia
The tornado outbreak over two days caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage across the region. The Tupelo tornado destroyed more than 200 homes, sweeping many into Gum Pond along with the residents. It killed whole families, including one of 13. The following day the Gainesville tornado – a double tornado event – emerged. It destroyed the Cooper Pants Factory, killing 70 workers – the highest tornado death toll from a single building in U.S. history.
181 deaths. April 9, 1947, in Woodward, Oklahoma
The Woodward tornado is the most deadly to ever strike the state of Oklahoma. It was almost two miles wide and traveled for 100 miles at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
More than 100 blocks in Woodward were levelled and over 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed.
158 deaths. May 22, 2011, in Joplin, Missouri
The one-mile wide tornado was the third to strike the town of Joplin since 1971. More than 1,000 people were injured and almost $3billion worth of damage was caused. Local media reported that more than half of the 158 who died were killed inside their homes.
143 deaths. April 24, 1908, in Amite, Louisiana, and Purvis, Mississippi
Most of the people killed were in rural areas.
Many historians believe the death toll was higher than official records state as many the deaths of many African-American may not have been properly recorded. Both the Amite and Purvis tornadoes were rated as F4 – the second strongest possible – and injured hundreds of people.
116 deaths. June 8, 1953, in Flint, Michigan
It is the deadliest tornado to strike Michigan and injured more than 800 people. The Flint tornado, which traveled at speeds of 35mph, is rated as a F5 on the Fujita scale – the strongest possible. Of the 116 people killed, all but three died on a four-mile stretch of Coldwater Road.
114 deaths. May 11, 1953 in Waco, Texas
The Waco tornado killed 22 people as it destroyed the packed Dennis Building and a 12 died in cars crushed in the street.
Almost 200 businesses and factories were destroyed, causing $41.2million worth of damage. The deadly tornado spurred the development of a nationwide severe weather warnings system.
114 deaths. May 18, 1902 in Goliad, Texas
The tornado leveled churches, as well as more than 200 homes and businesses. Of those killed, 50 people died as they sought shelter in a black Methodist church in Goliad.
103 deaths. March 23, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska
The tornado struck on Easter Sunday at about 6pm, with little or no warning. It was so strong that steel train cars were later found pierced by pieces of debris from destroyed houses.
He said he peered out his window as the weather worsened and believed he saw a flock of birds heading down the street.
The destruction in the wake of the punishing storm led Oklahoma Gov Mary Fallin to declare a state of emergency for 16 counties.
The National Weather Service in Wichita put in place tornado warnings for East Central Kingman County, Southern Sedgwick County and Northwester Sumner County in the state.
A massive twister touched down near Wichita Mid-Continent Airport just before 4pm local time.
A severe thunderstorm, capable of becoming a tornado, happened at 3:30pm and moved Northeast at 35mph, bringing ping-pong ball sized hail, according to weather.com. Those who live in mobile homes were warned that there was extreme risk of their properties being destroyed.
Residents were warned to take cover in an interior room on the lowest floor of a solid building and stay back from windows. People were warned to take care because flying debris could be deadly as was the risk of falling trees.
It comes just days after devastating Texas tornadoes which killed six people and injured dozens. The National Weather Service says 15 tornadoes touched down in north Texas on Wednesday. Initial estimates put that number at 10, however the NWS added five more throughout Thursday afternoon.
In its preliminary findings, the National Weather Service rated the tornado that hit Hood County Wednesday night an EF-4, which is labeled ‘devastating’ by the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The scale ranges from from FO, defined as a gale, to F5, defined as incredible.
The Storm Prediction Center had been warning about severe weather in the region since Wednesday, and on Friday, it zeroed in on Sunday as the day the storm system would likely pass through.
‘They’ve been calling for this all day,’ Edmond resident Anita Wright said after riding out the twister in an underground shelter.
She and her husband Ed emerged from their hiding place to find uprooted trees, downed limbs and damaged gutters in their home.
In Katie Leathers’ backyard, the family’s trampoline was tossed through a section of fence and a giant tree uprooted.
‘I saw all the trees waving, and that’s when I grabbed everyone and got into two closets,’ Leathers said. ‘All these trees just snapped.’
The Salvation Army said it would start collecting supplies for tornado victims, many of whom had lost their homes, on Tuesday morning. Items requested were bottled water, Gatorade, Wipes, diapers, baby formula, hand towels, individually wrapped snacks and work gloves. They told residents not to bring clothes.