MOORE, Okla. — A monstrous tornado at least a half-mile wide roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds up to 200 mph. At least 51 people were killed, and officials said the death toll was expected to rise.
The storm laid waste to scores of buildings in Moore, a community of 41,000 people about 10 miles south of the city. Block after block lay in ruins. Homes were crushed into piles of broken wood. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.
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.
More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children. And search-and-rescue efforts were to continue throughout the night.
Tiffany Thronesberry said she heard from her mother, Barbara Jarrell, shortly 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 of cuts and bruises.
Rescuers launched a desperate rescue effort at the school, pulling children from heaps of debris and carrying them to a triage center.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers.
Fallin also spoke with President Barack Obama, who offered the nation's help and gave Fallin a direct line to his office.
Many land lines to stricken areas were down, and cellphone networks were congested. The storm was so massive that it will take time to establish communications between rescuers and state officials, the governor said.
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.
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.
Volunteers and first responders raced to search the debris for survivors.
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.
Children from the school were among the dead, but several students were pulled alive from the rubble. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain to the triage center in the parking lot.
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.
The students were sent into the restroom.
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.
As dusk began to fall, heavy equipment was rolled up to the school, and emergency workers wearing yellow crawled among the ruins, searching for survivors.
Because the ground was muddy, bulldozers and front-end loaders were getting stuck. Crews used jackhammers and sledgehammers to tear away concrete, and chunks were being thrown to the side as the workers dug.
Douglas Sherman drove two blocks from his home to help.
"Just having those kids trapped in that school, that really turns the table on a lot of things," he said.
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.
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.
Monday's powerful tornado loosely followed the path of a killer twister that slammed the region in May 1999.
The weather service estimated that Monday's tornado was at least a half-mile wide. The 1999 storm had winds clocked at 300 mph.
Kelsey Angle, a weather service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo., said it's unusual for two such powerful tornadoes to track roughly the same path.
It was the fourth tornado to hit Moore since 1998. A twister also struck in 2003.
Monday's devastation in Oklahoma came almost exactly two years after an enormous twister ripped through the city of Joplin, Mo., killing 158 people and injuring hundreds more.
That May 22, 2011, tornado was the deadliest in the United States since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before Joplin, the deadliest modern tornado was June 1953 in Flint, Mich., when 116 people died.
Associated Press writers Sean Murphy, Nomaan Merchant and Sue Ogrocki contributed to this report.
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At least one tornado touched down near Oklahoma City on Monday, only one day after a tornado killed two in Shawnee.
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A tornado that hit Oklahoma late Sunday did heavy damage to the town of Shawnee. Reports of injuries could not immediately be confirmed. (May 19)
Raw: Tornado on the Ground in Oklahoma
The day after tornadoes killed two people in Oklahoma, a new tornado was spotted on the ground in Newcastle. (May 20)
Raw: Aftermath of Massive Tornado in Oklahoma
A mile-wide tornado churned through the Oklahoma City suburbs, destroying homes for the second day in a row Monday, as part of a severe weather outbreak that was expected to spread to other parts of the Plains and Midwest. (May 20)
Raw: House Burns After Massive Oklahoma Tornado
Television footage shows flattened buildings and at least one fire after a mile-wide tornado tore through the Oklahoma City area. Video shows homes and buildings in Moore, Okla. reduced to rubble and vehicles littered roadways. (May 20)
All people thought missing have been accounted for at this time.— Governor Mary Fallin (@GovMaryFallin) 2 years ago
Updated fatalities, deaths and missing persons: The 5/20 tornado has lead to: 377 injuries
24 deaths.— Governor Mary Fallin (@GovMaryFallin) 2 years ago
Shaunta Strong has worked 2 days straight. Making sandwiches for victims & first responders. twitter.com/KatyJBlakey/st…— Katy Blakey (@KatyJBlakey) May 23, 2013
While the Moore Medical Center crumbled around her on Monday afternoon, Shay-la Taylor was in labor with her second baby boy.
The mom-to-be knew about the severe weather watch as she checked into the hospital to be induced at 9 a.m. that morning, but says she wasn’t really nervous.
“We’re used to tornadoes and sirens,” the 25-year-old mom told HuffPost in a phone interview. “If you freaked out every time you heard a siren, you’d have an anxiety attack every May in Oklahoma.”
Click here to read the rest of her tale.
--Farah L. Miller
Sprinkles Cupcakes in Los Angeles plans to donate all of the proceeds from their (ever-popular) Red Velvet cupcake sold on May 22 to support Oklahomans affected by Monday's tornado.
"As a native Oklahoman with my parents and brother still living in Oklahoma City, I am especially heartbroken by this devastating tragedy," Charles Nelson, co-founder of Sprinkles, stated on Facebook.
For more, click here.
Basketball player Kevin Durant viewed tornado-damaged homes in Moore, Okla., on Wednesday. The Oklahoma City Thunder star also donated $1 million to the American Red Cross for relief efforts. The Thunder later matched the $1 million donation. (Sue Ogrocki / AP)
The post office branch in Moore, Okla., was one of the thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed by Monday's twister. To help residents impacted by the disaster, the US Postal Service is setting up mail service alternatives in the area, News9.com reported.
Some of the options being offered include held mail, portable post offices and delivery service through an alternative office nearby. Letter carriers will also attempt to deliver mail wherever possible.
Click here for more.
HuffPost's Lynne Peeples reports:
Chris Whitley had already survived three tornadoes and had worked at the scene of dozens more before arriving in Joplin, Mo.
"It was unlike anything I'd ever seen," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman recalled of the devastation left by the deadly twister that struck the town two years ago Wednesday.
"So far," he added, "pictures from Moore are very eerily familiar."
As they did in the wake of the Joplin tornado, Whitley and other experts are warning of dangers that may not be obvious in photographs of the wreckage in Moore, Okla., where a mile-wide tornado tore through the town and took the lives of at least 24 people on Monday.
In addition to rusty nails, shattered glass, falling debris and loose wires, hazards such as cancer-causing asbestos and neurotoxic lead can be stirred up by the violent winds and by recovery efforts themselves. Such risks may raise the toll of death and injury over the days, even decades, ahead.
HuffPost's Saki Knafo reports:
“I’m being totally honest with you,” Darius, 15, said. “I don’t even know where we are.”
The wreckage left by the mile-wide tornado that swept across central Oklahoma, killing at least 24 people, is so comprehensive and so jumbled that it challenges the very concept of rebuilding. So little is left that it’s hard to know where to start. Thousands of people are now homeless, their houses battered beyond recognition and their futures far from clear.
For Darius, a sense of dislocation is nothing new. Until he was 8, he lived in an apartment in New Orleans. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and he and his mom evacuated to Houston, before resettling here, in the suburbs of Oklahoma City.
His mother’s constant fights with his stepdad prompted him to seek refuge. In February, he moved into a spare room in Brandon’s home a few blocks away, effectively becoming part of the Dick family. For the first time in his life, he had a place he called home.
Now, it's gone.
Gov. Mary Fallin's office now reporting 353 injuries from Monday's tornado. Death count remains @ 24 fatalities. Praying for all affected.— Linda Cavanaugh (@linda4news) 3 years ago
HuffPost's Ben Hallman reports from Moore:
Judy Peterson has big plans for restoring her home, which was damaged in the brutal tornado that devastated this community on Monday. A man at her church has volunteered to remove the pear tree that fell on her driveway and her son-in-law, a contractor, has promised to help repair her roof and windows.
But on Wednesday afternoon, she was sitting on the pavement with her daughter in the bright sunshine at an intersection leading into her neighborhood. She had been there for a while. As with some 80 or so other residents milling around here, police had prevented Peterson from returning to her home to gather valuables and begin to clean up.
“It’s frustrating to be here because there is so much else we could be doing,” Peterson said. “I’m trying to be open-minded about the whole thing.”
Shayla Taylor was in the middle of labor on the second floor of Moore medical when the tornado hit, but baby wasn't on her brain.
Her family, including her husband were sent downstairs to the cafeteria, but Shayla was too far along to be moved. Moments later: a direct hit.
HuffPost's Michael McAuliff reports:
Oklahoma's senators can thank sequestration, and perhaps more importantly, funding for Superstorm Sandy cleanup that they opposed, for sparing them from a difficult vote on disaster aid for tornado-ravaged Oklahomans.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued that an aid bill for the Sooner State would be totally different than the Sandy bill. And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) argued in an interview Wednesday that Oklahomans will get whatever they need from the federal government without new help because the the Federal Emergency Management Agency has "$11.8 billion sitting on the side."
"We're not going to come close to that with this," Coburn said on CBS. "Oklahomans like to care for their own, and we'll take the help that's appropriate."
The Associated Press says the state medical examiner's office has released a complete list of the names and ages of the 24 people killed in the tornado. Click here for the full list.
William H. Macy, his wife, Felicity Huffman, and other members of the Rudderless movie cast and crew reached out to help Oklahomans after the recent tornadoes.
The stars were here shooting a pivotal scene on location at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Suzanne Haley, a teacher's aide at Briarwood Elementary School, was impaled in her leg while protecting students during the Moore, Okla. tornado. The school was in the direct path of the twister and completely destroyed, but there were no fatalities.
Click here to read more. The post does include graphic photos.
Moore, Oklahoma mayor: All missing accounted for; Of the 6 who were still missing, 5 are OK. http://t.co/d19E3277jO— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) 6 years ago
Memorial and prayer service for tornado victims announced. https://t.co/HJ9aHdlIhU— Governor Mary Fallin (@GovMaryFallin) 2 years ago
Megan Futrell, a 29-year-old mother of two, died in Monday's tornado with her 4-month-old child, Case, according to a statement emailed to The Huffington Post by the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Futrell and her baby were killed when the roof collapsed on a 7-Eleven, where the two were sheltered in a walk-in cooler, the Oklahoman reports. Just minutes before, Futrell had grabbed Case from a babysitter and run inside the store to wait out the tornado. She realized she couldn't outrun the storm in her car, the paper notes.
Click here to read more.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has asked for "swift and immediate" aid following the Oklahoma tornado and asked lawmakers to set aside partisanship and any "political retribution."
City of Moore-roads will be open after 3 PM. Must show ID/credentials to get into the neighborhoods.— City of Moore (@cityofmoore) 2 years ago
Amy Elliot of the OK Medical Examiner Office is asking for help returning 8 deceased to their loved ones. Contact them at 405-239-4171— KFOR (@kfor) 5 years ago
Six people unaccounted for following Monday's Oklahoma tornado, official says http://t.co/d19E3277jO— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) 6 years ago
Speaking with the Daily Mail, the childrens' father, Phillip Vargyas, still sounded dazed.
"We just don’t know what to do anymore," he said, adding, "At this point we have a lot of things to do, little things to do for the girls. ... We are trying to move in the right direction but it’s hard to know where to go at all, what to do."
Photo courtesy of: KCEN-TV.
Rep. Tom Cole on bipartisan tornado response: "I have gotten more texts from both sides of the aisle on this than over my entire career combined."
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the federal government will financially support clean up efforts following the Moore tornado.
"The federal government will assume 85 percent of the cost for the first 30 days, 80 percent for the next 60 days. That will allow the state and communities to draw funds very quickly."