UPDATE: The state medical examiner’s office revealed that some of the victims may have been counted twice and the most recent death toll is at 24 people, 7 of whom are children, according to the Associated Press.
MOORE, Okla., May 21, 2013 ― Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, continues the grim task of search and rescue following a class 4 tornado that laid devastating waste to the town of 41,000. Confirmed fatalities have reached 91 persons with dozens more, including 40 children, being treated in area hospitals.
First responders are moving a ten-foot high pile of rubble that was once the Plaza Towers Elementary School, mostly by hand, looking for the children beneath it. There is hope that children may still be found in shelters and will yet be reunited with their parents. Late in the evening, a five-year-old was safely reunited with his parents.
Children who may remain trapped in the school are feared dead. Of the 20 children confimed dead, seven were killed at the Plaza Towers Elementary School.
“This is war-zone terrible,” said Jon Welsh, a helicopter pilot for Oklahoma City TV station KFOR who lives in Moore, while surveying the damage from the air. “This school is completely gone.”
The nation watched images of a community in ruins as block after block of homes and businesses were churned to rubble beneath the half-mile wide EF-4 twister, the second most powerful category of storm. This storm had wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour. Experts are looking at the “footprint” of the storm, which is reported to be as much as two miles wide.
Deploying 80 National Guard members to assist with the search-and-rescue operations, authorities are expecting the death toll to rise as crews move deeper into the rubble.
The tornado first touched down south of Moore, giving residents about 30 minutes notice before it reached population centers in Moore. It was not long enough for most people to react or find safe haven from the total destruction.
Storm watchers were able to capture video of the dark funnel cloud, moving across summer greening landscapes, churning the ground, leaving scarred earth and destruction in its wake.
The storm has led to a new term, “debris balls,” described as swirling, raining masses of shingles, broken wood, and flying objects that added insult to the tornado’s injury.
Meteorologists note this tornado has followed a path similar to a May 3, 1999, tornado which caused significant damage to the area as its winds reached speeds of over 300 miles per hour. Kansas City, Missouri based meteorologists for The Weather Center are saying it is unusual that two storms would take the same path. CNN meterologist Chad Myers is showing graphics that in the last 14 years, three major twisters followed almost identical paths across Moore.
It has been almost two years since Joplin, Missouri suffered devastation from a twister that killed 158 people, injuring hundreds more and leaving the town in ruins. That storm, on May 22, 2011, was the deadliest recorded tornado since records were first kept in 1950.
Country music star and Moore native Toby Keith said in a written statement:
“This storm has devastated the community that I grew up in. I rode my bike through those neighborhoods. I have family and friends in Moore. My heart and prayers go to those that have lost so much. But Moore is strong and we will persevere. God be with you all.”
Information you need to know:
If you are one of the lost, or looking for someone that is lost, go the Salvation Army “Safe and Well” website.
Text “storm” to 80888 to make a $10 donation to the Salvation Army.
Find Red Cross shelter information here.
United Way of Central Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief Fund is open. Donations may be made online at www.unitedwayokc.org or by mail to United Way of Central Oklahoma, P.O. Box 837, Oklahoma City, OK 73101 with notation for May Tornado Relief.
Call 211 for non-emergency services and information in Oklahoma.
Lost animals: If you find displaced animals, you can take them to the Animal Resource Center at 7949 S. I-35 Service Rd. (405) 604-2892. They are also offering displaced people shelter for the night as well.
Other facilities open to tornado victims:
University of Oklahoma – student housing (Norman); Oklahoma Baptist University – student housing (Shawnee).
Graceway Baptist Church, located at 1100 S.W. 104th in Oklahoma City.
Oakcrest Church of Christ at 1111 S.W. 89th Street in Moore. Victory Church, located 4300 North MacArthur in Oklahoma City.
Journey Church in Norman I-35 and Tecumseh Road is open as a shelter.
Fifth Street Missionary Baptist Church, located at 801 N.E. 5th St. Oklahoma City.
St. Andrews Church, located at S.W. 119th and May.
Trinity Church of the Nazarene is open as an emergency shelter. It is located at 7301 S. Walker, just on the North side of I-240.
The prayers of the Communities staff are with the people of Moore and their families.
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