At least 24 people, including 10 children, were killed by a massive tornado that swept through Oklahoma Monday, flattening everything in its path.
The tornado was estimated to be at least two miles wide at one point as it moved through Moore, in the southern part of the Oklahoma City metro area.
Videos showed a huge funnel cloud stretching from the sky to the ground, kicking up dangerous debris. Officials say the death toll is likely to rise.
Emergency personnel were scouring the school's rubble Monday evening, reports indicate. Footage also showed a number of other leveled buildings.
The casualties may be even worse than are being confirmed at this time:
- Twelve adults and eight children are being treated at the Oklahoma University Medical Center and The Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City.
- The Norman Regional Hospital and the Healthplex in Norman, Ok., are treating an unspecified number of people for "trauma, lacerations and broken bones."
- Thirteen patients have been moved from Moore Hospital to other hospitals, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management officials said.
Keli Pirtle, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., said the tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m. and traveled for 20 miles.
It was on the ground for 40 minutes, she said, striking the town of Newcastle and traveling 10 miles to Moore, a populous suburb of Oklahoma City.
Pirtle said preliminary data suggested that it was a Category 4 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which measures tornado strength on a scale of 0-5.
Television on Monday showed destruction spread over a vast area of the region, with blocks upon blocks of homes and businesses destroyed.
Residents, some partly clothed and apparently caught by surprise, were shown picking through rubble, while several large structures were on fire.
Cars were upended, flipped and stacked on top of each other.
The deadly storm system continued to churn through the region on Monday afternoon, and forecasters warned that new tornadoes could still form.
An earlier storm system also spawned several strong tornadoes across Oklahoma on Sunday. Several deaths were reported then as well.
Russell Schneider, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center, said the area's tornado risk is still high.
Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.
UPDATE, 5/21, 6:50 a.m.: Emergency crews and volunteers continue to work through the early morning hours Tuesday in a frantic search for survivors.
Much of the tornado damage appeared to be in the suburb of Moore, where rescue workers struggled to make their way through debris-clogged streets.
Many people are feared trapped under mountains of rubble.
Amy Elliott, the spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City medical examiner, said at least 91 people had died, and officials said that toll was likely to climb.
Hospitals reported at least 145 people injured, 70 of them kids.
Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore was reduced to a pile of twisted metal and toppled walls. Workers were able to pull several children from the rubble.
On Monday evening crews were still struggling to cut through fallen beams and clear debris amid reports that dozens of students were trapped.
UPDATE, 5/21, 1:50 p.m.: The death toll has been lowered to 24 confirmed. Some people are believed to have been counted multiple times in the chaos.
Initially, reports said 51 or even 91 people had died.
It may still rise, however, and significantly at that. Major search-and-rescue operations are underway but the damage to the vicinity is catastrophic.
UPDATE, 5/23, 6:30 a.m.: Authorities have now released the identities of the 24 people, including 10 children, who perished in Monday's tragedy.
While anguish over the deaths was palpable, many remained stunned that the twister didn't take a higher human toll, which most believed would soar.
During its 17 miles and 40 minutes on the ground, the physical destruction was staggering - some estimates put the price tag at $2 billion or more.
As many as 13,000 buildings were destroyed.
"The tornado that we're talking about is the 1 or 2 percent tornado," Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood said.
The twister measured a top-of-the-scale EF5 with winds of at least 200 mph, in other words "the anomaly that flattens everything to the ground."
As response teams transitioned into cleanup and recovery, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said estimated damage costs would be at least $1.5B.
Story developing ...