By Carey Gillam and Ian Simpson

MOORE, Okla., May 21 (Reuters) - Rescuers went building to building in search of victims and survivors picked through the rubble of their shattered homes on Tuesday, a day after a massive tornado tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, wiping out blocks of houses and killing at least 24 people.

After a long day of searching - emergency crews lifted broken doors, moved sections of shattered walls and tossed aside bricks looking for survivors as cadaver dogs sniffed through the rubble - Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said he believed all the dead and missing had been accounted for.

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"We've checked the area with thermal imagers, as well as gone door to door, so we feel like we're fixing to go from rescue and searching to recovery," Lewis told CNN.

The death toll of 24 was lower than initially feared, but nine children were among the dead, including seven who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit on Monday in the deadliest tornado to strike the United States in two years. About 240 people were injured.

Emergency workers pulled more than 100 survivors from the debris of homes, schools and a hospital after the tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City region with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour (320 kph), leaving a trail of destruction 17 miles (23 km) long by 1.3 miles (2 km) wide.

"Can you imagine a lion, like a huge lion? You mix it with a freight train and that's what it was like. Scariest thing I've ever heard in my life," said Kim Limke, 40, in Oklahoma City's Westmoor subdivision. "It was like a freight train came out of a lion's mouth."

Limke rode out the tornado at her daughter's school and was surrounded by its destruction on Tuesday at her rented Westmoor home. For blocks around, houses were reduced to heaps of rubble and trees were stripped of their leaves. The air was tinged with the smell of wet pine from wrecked homes.

The National Weather Service upgraded its calculation of the storm's strength on Tuesday, saying it was a rare EF5, the most powerful ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour (320 kph).


'A LOT OF CHAOS'

In the hours right after the storm, many more people had been feared dead. At one point, the Oklahoma state medical examiner's office said the toll could rise as high as 91, but on Tuesday officials said 24 bodies had been recovered, down from a previous tally of 51.

The earlier numbers likely reflected some double-counted deaths, said Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer for the medical examiner.

"There was a lot of chaos," she said.

Shelters were opened for families who lost their homes, and universities offered to house people. Albert Ashwood, director of Oklahoma's department of emergency management, said it was too early to say how many people were left homeless, but clearly it was thousands, given the extent of the damage.

The National Guard, firefighters from more than a dozen fire departments and rescuers from other states were involved in the search-and-rescue effort in Moore, a town of 55,000 people. Washington deployed 300 federal disaster workers to Oklahoma.

Plaza Towers Elementary School was one of five schools in the path of the tornado. "They literally were lifting walls up and kids were coming out," Oklahoma State Police Sergeant Jeremy Lewis said. "They pulled kids out from under cinder blocks without a scratch on them."

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said the damage to property was likely to exceed that caused by the 2011 twister in Joplin, Missouri, which killed 161 people. Insured losses from the Joplin tornado exceeded $2 billion and are expected to rise as claims are settled.

Disaster modeling company AIR Worldwide estimated the replacement value of the properties within a mile of each side of the tornado's track at around $6 billion. The figure represents a rough estimate of the potential upper limit of losses, not an actual loss estimate, it said.

'AS LONG AS IT TAKES'

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in Oklahoma, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local efforts.

"The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes," Obama said at the White House.

Lewis, the Moore mayor, warned residents of the danger of electrocution and fire from downed power lines and broken natural gas lines. Thunderstorms and lightning slowed the search effort and made conditions tough for families left with nothing but their clothes.

At Moore's Eastwood Estates, Nicole Moore, 32, and her husband, Kelly Regouby, 43, picked through the wreckage of what had been the master bedroom of their home.

During the storm, the couple, their 9-month-old son, Regouby's 20-year-old daughter and Moore's mother huddled in a shelter built into the floor of their garage. The house came down over them, but they emerged with only scratches.

On Tuesday, they recovered rain-soaked family pictures and mementos.

"As long as we find stuff like this, I'll be happy," Moore said, her voice breaking. "We'd give up 10 of these houses to have our family safe."

In the neighborhood, brick walls were flattened and pink insulation was scattered everywhere. Hundreds of cars looked as if they had been shelled. In a sign of the tornado's strength, a bicycle wheel found in a sodden field had lost its rim and the spokes were wrapped around the hub.

Authorities warned the town 16 minutes before the tornado touched down just after 3 p.m. That amount of time is more than the average eight to 10 minutes of warning.


FIVE SCHOOLS HIT

U.S. Representative Tom Cole, who lives in Moore, said the Plaza Towers school was the most secure building in the area.

"And so people did the right thing, but if you're in front of an F4 or an F5 (in tornado strength), there is no good thing to do if you're above ground. It's just tragic," he said on MSNBC-TV.

Miguel Macias and his wife, Veronica, had two children at the Plaza Towers school. They found 8-year-old Ruby after workers rescued the girl but their son, 6-year-old Angel, was nowhere to be found, said Brenda Ramon, pastor of the Faith Latino Church where the family are members.

Ramon and several congregation members spent hours helping the family search for Angel. He was located at a medical center in Oklahoma City about five hours after the tornado hit.

"It was heart-breaking," Ramon said. "We couldn't find him for hours." The boy had wounds to his face and head, but was not badly hurt, Ramon said. "Their little bodies are so resilient," he said.

Witnesses said Monday's tornado appeared more fierce than a giant twister that was among the dozens that tore up the area on May 3, 1999, killing more than 40 people and destroying thousands of homes. That tornado ranked as an EF5.

The 1999 tornado ranks as the third-costliest in U.S. history, having caused more than $1 billion in damage at the time, or more than $1.3 billion in today's dollars. Only the devastating Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornadoes in 2011 were more costly.

(Additional reporting by Alice Mannette, Lindsay Morris, Nick Carey, Brendan O'Brien and Greg McCune; Writing by Claudia Parsons and Jim Loney; Editing by Grant McCool, Philip Barbara and Stacey Joyce)

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  • Moore Residents Begin Painful Recovery From Massive Tornado Strike

    MOORE, OK - MAY 24: Larry Cory displays an American flag outside the funeral for nine-year-old tornado victim Nicholas McCabe on May 24, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. A two-mile wide EF5 tornado touched down in Moore May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    Carol Kawaykla stands in the rubbles of her tornado devastated home in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 24, 2013. The tornado, one of the most powerful in recent years, killed 24 people, injured 377, damaged or destroyed 1,200 homes and affected an estimated 33,000 people in this Oklahoma City suburb, officials said in their latest update. Initial damages have been estimated at around $2 billion. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Moore Residents Continue Painful Recovery From Massive Tornado Strike

    MOORE, OK - MAY 24: Sabrina Mitchell recovers a stuffed doll as she searches for belongings in what was the second floor bedroom of her home which was destroyed by a tornado on May 24, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. A two-mile wide EF5 tornado touched down in Moore May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    Lightning strikes during a thunder storm as tornado survivors search for salvagable stuffs at their devastated home on May 23, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma. Severe thunderstorms barreled through this Oklahoma City suburb at dawn Thursday, complicating clean-up efforts three days after a powerful tornado killed 24 people and destroyed 2,400 homes. More rain was forecast to fall on Moore, soaking the disaster zone where residents had just the day before, under clear blue skies, started picking through the rubble of their destroyed houses to recover personal effects. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Claudia Clark clears tornado debris from a cemetery Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    A tornado-devastated neighborhood is seen during a thunder storm on May 23, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Severe thunderstorms barreled through this Oklahoma City suburb at dawn Thursday, complicating clean-up efforts three days after a powerful tornado killed 24 people and destroyed 2,400 homes. More rain was forecast to fall on Moore, soaking the disaster zone where residents had just the day before, under clear blue skies, started picking through the rubble of their destroyed houses to recover personal effects. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    A cross stands over a destroyed home as the sun rises on May 23, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. A powerful tornado classified as an EF4 passed through the town May 20, destroying homes, schools and businesses and killing 24 people including children. The epic twister, two miles (three kilometers) across, flattened block after block of homes as it struck mid-afternoon Monday, hurling cars through the air, downing power lines and setting off localized fires in a 45-minute rampage. AFP PHOTO/Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Powerful Tornado Rips Through Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 22: Linda Deason collects a picture of her daughter Tracy Stephan, and granddaughter, Abigail Stephan (2 mos. in photo) from her tornado destroyed home on May 22, 2013 in Moore, Ok. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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    An unidentified woman looks over the scene as residents sort through their tornado-ravaged homes Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (Charlie Riedel / AP)

  • Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball player Kevin Durant walks past tornado-damaged homes in a neighborhood in Moore, Okla., Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Durant donated $1 million to the American Red Cross for relief efforts. The Thunder matched the $1 million donation. At left is one of his friends, Randy Williams. (Sue Ogrocki / AP)

  • Christine Jones (L) is comforted by her daughter Ashley as they stand in front of Christine's home which was destroyed when a tornado ripped through the area on May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

  • Casey Angle, a student at Plaza Towers Elementary School poses for a portrait outside her destroyed home as she holds a family photo that includes her sister Sydney Angle, second from left, on May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Casey's sister Sydney Angle was killed when a powerful tornado classified as an EF4 destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School, which also ripped through the town Monday destroying homes, schools and businesses, killing several people including children. (Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)

  • Don Jackson shows his wife's wedding ring after he found it in the rubble of his home that was destroyed by a tornado that ripped through the area on May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

  • A Dallas Cowboys doll sits on top of a car in the rubble of the tornado May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The two-mile-wide Category 5 tornado touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Brett Deering / Getty Images)

  • Brittany Brown rushes to get aid after finding her grandmother's cat "Kitty" which was buried in tornado rubble for two days at the grandmother's destroyed home Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (Charlie Riedel / AP)

  • Nick Balen holds his daughter Kinley while visiting the destroyed doctor's office where his wife worked and survived Monday's tornado, along with 13 other people, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Marvin Dixon, the grandfather of 8-year-old tornado victim Kyle Davis, glances down at a photo of his grandson while sitting for a portrait in the lobby of a funeral home where his grandson awaits burial, in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Nicknamed "The Wall," Davis loved soccer and going to the Monster Truck exhibitions at the fairgrounds with his grandfather. Kyle was killed Monday, May 20, 2013, when a huge tornado roared through Moore, Okla., flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying his elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds up to 200 mph. (Brennan Linsley / AP)

  • Downed power lines are shown in the backyard of Leslie Paul's home as she is helped by friends recover items Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma. (Tony Gutierrez / AP)

  • James Pitts uses a sledge hammer to try to force open a friend's trunk in a tornado-ravaged car as residents sort through their tornado-ravaged homes Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Rick Brown puts on a pair of boots after finding them in his tornado-ravaged home Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Susan Kates salvages items from a friend's tornado-ravaged home Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Okla. Cleanup continues two days after a huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Chad Allcox, left, helps his friend Kevin McElvany, right, the home owner, clear debris away from his destroyed home from Monday's tornado Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma. (Tony Gutierrez / AP)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    Road signs and other debris left by the May 20 tornado are seen on May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. As rescue efforts in Oklahoma wound down, residents turned to the daunting task of rebuilding a US heartland community shattered by a vast tornado that killed at least 24 people. The epic twister, two miles (three kilometers) across, flattened block after block of homes as it struck mid-afternoon on May 20, hurling cars through the air, downing power lines and setting off localized fires in a 45-minute rampage. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 22: Eric Lowery looks over damage to his mother's vehicle after it was blown from her workplace and came to rest on debris of a collapsed building nearby after a tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado of at least EF5 strength and two miles wide touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    A man pulling a child's wagon returns to his tornado devastated home on May 22, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. As rescue efforts in Oklahoma wound down, residents turned to the daunting task of rebuilding a US heartland community shattered by a vast tornado that killed at least 24 people. The epic twister, two miles (three kilometers) across, flattened block after block of homes as it struck mid-afternoon on May 20, hurling cars through the air, downing power lines and setting off localized fires in a 45-minute rampage. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 22: Workers remove a damaged neon letter from the marquee in front of the Warren Theater after a tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado of at least EF5 strength and two miles wide touched down May 20 killing at least 24 people and leaving behind extensive damage to homes and businesses. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • At sunrise, police patrol a partially-destroyed row of houses adjacent to a group of homes completely leveled on Monday when a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Wednesday, May 22, 2013. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening a wide swath of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • A brick mailbox lies flattened in front of what used to be Dan and Rebecca Garland's home in Moore, Okla., on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Nearly a dozen neighbors and relatives took refuge in the family's storm shelter during Monday's deadly EF5 tornado. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of the Moore Medical Center destroyed after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • This Tuesday, May 21, 2013 aerial photo shows, from bottom to top, the path Monday's tornado took through Moore, Okla. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin)

  • A home in Moore, Okla. sits severely damaged Tuesday, May 21, 2013, after Monday's massive tornado moved through the area. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

  • CORRECTS NAME OF SCHOOL TO PLAZA TOWERS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - An aerial view of Plaza Towers Elementary School that was damaged in Monday's tornado Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening an entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • A man who asked not to be identified hangs an American flag on what is left of a tree in a neighborhood north of SW 149th between Western and Santa Fe on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, after a tornado struck south Oklahoma City and Moore, Okla., on Monday. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Nate Billing)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of the destroyed Plaza Tower elementary school after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    Men walk at their backyard of their tornado devastated neighbourhood on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Families returned to a blasted moonscape that had been an American suburb Tuesday after a monstrous tornado tore through the outskirts of Oklahoma City, killing at least 24 people. Nine children were among the dead and entire neighborhoods vanished, with often the foundations being the only thing left of what used to be houses and cars tossed like toys and heaped in big piles. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-WEATHER-TORNADO

    A woman salvages memorable from her tornado devastated home on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Families returned to a blasted moonscape that had been an American suburb Tuesday after a monstrous tornado tore through the outskirts of Oklahoma City, killing at least 24 people. Nine children were among the dead and entire neighborhoods vanished, with often the foundations being the only thing left of what used to be houses and cars tossed like toys and heaped in big piles. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: Amber Johnson (R) a fifth grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary School salvages items from her which was parked at the school when a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Johnson is being helped by her daughters Natalie (L) and Nicole. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: Chris Combs and her husband Jimmy look over damge at Briarwood Elementary School after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Chris is a secretary at the school and was inside the school office when the tornado hit. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: Macie Thompson looks over damage at Briarwood Elementary School after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: A pickup truck is wrapped around a tree after a powerful tornado ripped through the neighborhood on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of a destroyed house after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

    MOORE, OK - MAY 21: An aerial view of destroyed houses and buildings after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

  • A man salvages stuff from what left of a bedroom of his tornado devastated home on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. Families returned to a blasted moonscape that had been an American suburb Tuesday after a monstrous tornado tore through the outskirts of Oklahoma City, killing at least 24 people. Nine children were among the dead and entire neighborhoods vanished, with often the foundations being the only thing left of what used to be houses and cars tossed like toys and heaped in big piles. (Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images)

  • Heath Thayer, left, and his brother Derek Thayer look at Derek's tornado-ravaged pickup truck which was thrown across the street from where it was parked Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Okla. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (Charlie Riedel / AP)

  • Zac Woodcock salvages items from the rubble of a tornado-ravaged rental home which they own Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Okla. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening an entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (Charlie Riedel / AP)


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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

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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.

--Sasha Bronner

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moore tornado kevin durant

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)

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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.

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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.

Read the rest here.

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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.

Read the rest here.

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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.”

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News9 reports:

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.

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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."

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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.

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KFOR reports:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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As families across Oklahoma start to pick up the pieces in the wake of Monday's devastating tornado, one family is reeling after the loss of two of their children to the storm..

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."

karrina sydnee vargyas

Photo courtesy of: KCEN-TV.

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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."

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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."

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