President Barack Obama has declared Oklahoma to be a major disaster area, making federal aid available to people in five counties.
91 people have been reported dead in the aftermath of a tornado which storm chasers have estimated to be more than two miles wide. That number has climbed form the 51 originally reported, according to CNN.
“It seems that our worst fears have happened today,” reported Bill Bunting, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Norman, Okla.
Moore, Oklahoma was one of the hardest hit towns in Oklahoma. The entire town has basically been leveled.
According to Moore’s Mayor Glenn Lewis “The whole city looks like a debris field. “
The tornado, reported to be an EF4 one–the second strongest type–by the National Weather Service, was a mile wide at its base, according to The Weather Channel.
The twister kicked up a cloud of debris perhaps two miles wide, according to reporter for KFOR. Winds of 166 to 200 mph. ripped through the Oklahoma City suburbs. Entire city blocks were smashed to smithereens. The killer twister left behind miles of mangled cars and splintered wood, and destroyed an elementary school where seven children were found dead.
The tornado tore the roof off the Plaza Towers Elementary School about 3 p.m. A teacher draped herself on top of six children in a bathroom to protect them. At lest seven children drowned to death in a pool of water there, according to officials.
Eighty-five patients, including 65 children, were being treated for anything from minor to more critical injuries, including impalements by objects and crushing injuries.
Spokeswoman Brooke Cayot (KAY’-ot) of the Integris Southwest Medical Center says nine of 57 patients who are being treated were listed in critical condition after Monday afternoon’s tornado, while nineteen were in serious condition. A further twenty-nine were listed in fair or good condition.
She said five of the patients were children who have since been treated and released.
OU Medical Center spokesman Scott Coppenbarger says his hospital and a nearby children’s hospital are treating approximately 65 patients, including 45 children. The hospital previously said the number was higher, but later revised its patient count.
As the tornado struck, teachers told the children to cling to the walls of the school for safety, according to CNN.
More children have been reported to be missing, and more than two hours after the twister destroyed the elementary school, several children were still being rescued alive from the rubble.
Crews still searched for survivors as night fell, and officials on the scene have warned that the number of casualties will climb.
Besides Plaza Towers Elementary School, Briarwood Elementary School was heavily damaged, KFOR reported.
The scenes that played out on television screen across the United States were like seeing bombed-blasted images of a war-ravaged country. It is hard to imagine that anyone lived through the devastation that the tornado wreaked upon the town of Moore.
Television footage showed a landscape shattered. It was unlike images we often see in the aftermath of a tornado, the type that is more common, that leaves some homes untouched, while others are obliterated.
Fire blazed up into the darkening skies in several places. Houses were leveled and people walked among the ruins in a dazed, zombie-like state.
“I lost everything,” one man said as he walked through the ruins of a horse farm. “We might have one horse left out of all of them.”
Tiffany Thronesberry told The Associated Press that her mother, Barbara Jarrell, called her and screamed: “Help! Help! I can’t breathe! My house is on top of me!”
President Barack Obama and Gov. Mary Fallin asked the people of Oklahoma for patience. They promised:
“We will bring every single resource out that we can.”
Police searched cars “piled like Hot Wheels” in the parking lot of a local hospital in Moore. They spray-painted X’s to mark them clear of victims, said Kurt Gwartney, news director for radio station KGOU.
Relief efforts have already begun, though they are in the early stages still. The Red Cross reported that it was opening a shelter. Also, the University of Oklahoma opened some of its housing for displaced families.
Many in Oklahoma were reminded of the ferocious intensity of the tornado of May 3, 1999. That twister had wind speeds of more than 300 mph. Forty-six people died, and more than 8,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
On Sunday, tornadoes swept through four states, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. In Shawnee, Oklahoma, two elderly men were killed as a result.
Though tens of millions of people from Texas to the Great Lakes were warned about the major storm front and the possibility that it would generate tornadoes, and for more severe weather on Monday, no one could have predicted the size and severity of the tornado that hit Moore.
“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,” Mike Booth, the sheriff of Pottawatomie County, Okla., told The Associated Press. “It looks like there’s been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour.”
With President Obama’s declaring Oklahoma a major disaster area, much-needed federal funds will go towards the painful but necessary steps of rebuilding Moore and other areas of Oklahoma that were heavily damaged by Monday’s tornado.
Of course, no amount of money can lessen the grief and pain of Moore’s survivors who have lost loved ones to the deadly EF4 tornado.
Written by: Douglas Cobb