Story Summary

Oklahoma Tornado

A massive tornado struck a suburb of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon causing wide spread damage and destruction.

At least four people have died as a result of the severe weather.

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This story has 10 updates

A collection of raw and homemade footage and images depicting the destruction a massive tornado left in Moore, Oklahoma. (WGN-TV)

At least 24 people — including nine children — were killed when a massive tornado struck an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, officials said.At least seven of those children were killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, police said. Emergency personnel on Tuesday continued to scour the school’s rubble — a scene of twisted I-beams and crumbled cinder blocks.The tornado was 1.3 miles wide as it moved through Moore, in the southern part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, the National Weather Service said. The estimated peak wind ranged from 200 to 210 mph — which would make it an EF5, the most powerful category of tornadoes possible — according to the agency.Latest update:

– Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis told CNN on Tuesday evening that he doesn’t expect the death toll will rise past 24, saying, “I think that will stand.”

“We feel like we have basically gone from rescue and searching to recovery,” Lewis said.

Previously reported:

– Gov. Mary Fallin said the tornado was “one of (the) most horrific storms and disasters that this state has ever faced.” Oklahoma “will get through this. … We will overcome. We will rebuild. We will regain our strength,” she said.

– Officials are working on legislation for an emergency fund that would help the state’s recovery.

– Insurance claims will likely top $1 billion, Kelly Collins of the Oklahoma Insurance Commission told CNN. The cost would be higher than that from the May 3, 1999, tornado that hit the same area.

– Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird said searchers planned to search every affected structure and vehicle three times by Tuesday night.

A few hours before that, Mayor Glenn Lewis told CNN that “we don’t have anybody missing.”

– Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City mayor, said full electric service should be restored to the Draper Water Treatment Plant on Tuesday. Customers should eventually notice normal water pressure, he said. The storm knocked out power to the plant and authorities put the facility on generator power.

– Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will travel to Oklahoma on Wednesday to meet with state and local officials and “ensure that first responders are receiving the assistance they need in ongoing response and recovery efforts to the severe weather that impacted the region, ” DHS announced. Napolitano also will travel to Joplin for the second anniversary of the devastating tornado that struck that community.

– Kevin Durant, star of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, pledged $1 million through his family foundation to American Red Cross disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma, the Red Cross said Tuesday.

– The tornado tore through a 17-mile path, the National Weather Service said. The agency said survey crews indicated that the twister began 4.4 miles west of the city of Newcastle and ended 4.8 miles east of the city of Moore.

– At least 237 people were injured, the state’s Office of Emergency Management said Tuesday, citing the Health Department.

– Oklahoma officials revised the death toll to 24, down from 51. Nine of the fatalities are children.

– One of those is Ja’Nae Hornsby, who was among those killed at Plaza Woods Elementary School, her father told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “She was the best kid anybody could have. She was Ja’Nae,” Joshua Hornsby said. “She was a ball of energy, a ball of love.”

– State Rep. Mark McBride, a Republican, said he and his family have endured tornadoes for decades but “this is the worst thing” he’s ever seen.

– President Barack Obama said he doesn’t yet know the “full extent” of the damage. “We don’t know both the human and economic losses that may have occurred,” he said Tuesday. “Oklahoma needs to get everything it needs right away” to recover, he said.

– New York’s governor expressed his sympathy for Oklahomans in the aftermath of the “horrific tornado.” “Here in New York we know firsthand the devastation and pain caused by natural disasters, and in difficult times like these we, more than ever, stand with our fellow Americans,” Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

– The storm system behind Monday’s twister and several on Sunday is threatening a large swath of the United States on Tuesday, putting 53 million people at risk of severe weather. In the bull’s-eye Tuesday are parts of north-central Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and northern Arkansas and Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service.

– Oklahoma first and foremost needs donations to rebuild, Fallin told CNN.

– More than 40,000 customers remained without power Tuesday after a powerful tornado slammed the Oklahoma City region, a utility spokesman said. More than half of those customers were in the heavily damaged suburb of Moore, according to Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas & Electric.

– Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis told CNN on Tuesday the rescue effort is continuing and “we’re very optimistic we might find one or two people.”

– Personnel have rescued 101 people from rubble, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management representative Terri Watkins said Tuesday morning. Watkins cited an Oklahoma Highway Patrol tally of rescues from all agencies.

– Some of the children killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, drowned in a basement area there, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN on Tuesday morning. “My understanding, this school … Plaza Towers, they had a basement. Quite frankly, don’t mean to be graphic, but that’s why some of the children drowned, because they were in the basement area,” he said. Officials have said the storm killed at least seven children at the school.

– Obama signed a disaster declaration Monday night, a White House statement said. The declaration means federal emergency aid will supplement local recovery efforts.

– World leaders, including those in France, Germany, Pakistan and Spain, passed along their condolences. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II expressed her “deepest sympathies” to those affected and Pope Francis urged people to pray for families of those who’ve died, “especially those who lost young children.”

– The three high schools in the school district of Moore still will have graduation ceremonies on Saturday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Superintendent Susan Pierce said Tuesday.

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Disaster volunteers come in all shapes and sizes – and species.  A group of comfort dogs from the Chicago area are among the helpers traveling to the tornado-devastated Oklahoma.

The highly trained service dogs from a local ministry, their handlers and supplies, are heading to Oklahoma City to help soothe people traumatized by the deadly storm.

“When people pet a dog they relax and it helps people process whatever crisis it is that they are going through,” Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Charities, said.

These dogs and others like them have been dispatched to areas where tragedies have occurred – places like the Sandy Hook School shooting or the Boston Marathon bombing — where people may have suffered psychological shock from calamities that muddle the brain because the events are so horrible and difficult to process.

“Our handlers are trained like the dogs to listen and show mercy and compassion to people,” Hetzner said.

Clean up begins in Moore, Oklahoma

Weather
05/21/13

Skilling explains warnings of Oklahoma tornado

Skilling explains warnings of Oklahoma tornado

A Schaumburg village trustee and his wife were visiting family in Moore, Oklahoma when the tornado hit.
Frank Kozak and his wife, Char, hid in a closet during the storm.
They are back home and recovering, but their son, Steve Kozak, is in Oklahoma City now, staying with family.
Steve spoke to WGN Evening News.

The three high schools in the school district of Moore, Oklahoma, still will have graduation ceremonies on Saturday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City despite Monday’s devastating tornado and storm, Moore Public Schools Superintendent Susan Pierce said Tuesday.

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Amid downed power lines, hissing gas pipes and immense devastation, rescuers searched “board by board” Tuesday for survivors and victims of a massive tornado that pulverized a vast swath of the Oklahoma City suburbs.

It was a daunting task. The Monday afternoon storm carved a trail through the area as much as two miles wide and 22 miles long, officials said. Hardest hit was Moore, Oklahoma — a suburban town of 40,000 and the site of eerily similar twisters in 1999 and again four years later.

The state medical examiner’s office said 24 people were confirmed dead, including nine children. Earlier reports of at least 51 deaths were erroneous, said Amy Elliot, chief administrative officer for the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

At least 100 people have been pulled alive from the rubble by rescuers.

Terri Watkins, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman, who described Tuesday’s search as “board by board,” said it was far too soon to account for the devastation of the storm.

oklahomarescue“This is a massive tornado and it’s a large area that has been struck,” she said.

The scene — block after block of flattened homes and businesses, the gutted remains of a hospital and hits on two elementary schools — left even seasoned veterans of Oklahoma’s infamous tornadoes reeling.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb likened the destruction to a “two-mile-wide lawnmower blade going over a community.”

Police, firefighters, National Guard troops and volunteers joined forces Tuesday in searching the rubble. Texas sent an elite 80-member urban search team as well, and the American Red Cross sent 25 emergency response vehicles.

So many people were showing up to volunteer that authorities had to plead with would-be rescuers to stay away.

Path of devastation

The storm struck near Newcastle, Oklahoma, at 2:56 p.m. Monday — 16 minutes after the first warnings went out, according to the National Weather Service.

Moore residents had another 30 to 40 minutes before the massive storm entered the western part of the city, CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said.

As Gov. Mary Fallin had said Monday night, Lamb said he believed residents had time to prepare for the storm.

“My understanding is that the warning system was good. It was adequate,” he said.

Among the many buildings struck by the storm were two schools: Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementaries.

About 75 students and staff members were hunkered down in Plaza Towers when the tornado struck, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.

At one point, an estimated 24 children were missing from the school, but some later turned up at nearby churches.

On Monday, a father of a third-grader still missing sat quietly on a stool outside. Tears cascaded from his face as he waited for any news.

Even parents of survivors couldn’t wrap their minds around the tragedy.

“I’m speechless. How did this happen? Why did this happen?” Norma Bautista asked. “How do we explain this to the kids? … In an instant, everything’s gone.”

Across town, Moore Medical Center took a direct hit.

“Our hospital has been devastated,” Lewis said. “We had a two-story hospital, now we have a one. And it’s not occupiable.”

So 145 of the injured were rushed to three other area hospitals.

That number includes 45 children taken to the children’s hospital at Oklahoma University Medical Center, Dr. Roxie Albrecht said. Injuries ranged from minor to severe, including impalement and crushing injuries.

‘Cars crumpled up like little toys’

An early estimate rated the tornado as an EF4, meaning it had winds between 166 and 200 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

State Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph told CNN affiliate KOKI that it was “mass devastation.”

“I’m talking everywhere you looked, the debris field was so high, and so far and so wide, wounded people walking around the streets,” she said. “They were bloody; there were people that had stuff sticking out of them from things that were flying around in the air. There were cars crumpled up like little toys and thrown on top of buildings. Buildings that were two and three stories tall that were leveled.”

Storm chaser Lauren Hill was part of a team that recorded video of the massive tornado as it ripped through town.

“You could actually feel the vibration from the tornado itself as it was approaching,” she said.

“We still have a bit of PTSD,” she said. “It’s devastating.”

Still digging

After the ear-shattering howl subsided, survivors along the miles of destruction emerged from shelters to see an apocalyptic vision. Homes and other buildings were shredded to pieces. Remnants of mangled cars were piled on top of each other. What used to be a parking lot now looked like a junkyard.

“People are wandering around like zombies,” KFOR reporter Scott Hines said. “It’s like they’re not realizing how to process what had just happened.”

James Dickens is not a firefighter or medic. He’s actually a gas-and-oil pipeline worker. But that didn’t stop him from grabbing a hard hat and joining other rescuers at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

“I felt it was my duty to come help,” he said Tuesday after a long night of searching.

“As a father, it’s humbling. It’s heartbreaking to know that we’ve still got kids over there that’s possibly alive, but we don’t know.”

Hiding in freezers

Hines said rescuers found a 7-month-old baby and its mother hiding in a giant freezer. But they didn’t survive.

At the devastated hospital in Moore, some doctors had to jump into a freezer to survive, Lamb said.

Lando Hite, shirtless and spattered in mud, described how the storm pummeled the Orr Family Farm in Moore, which had about 80 horses before the storm hit.

“It was just like the movie ‘Twister,’ ” Hite told KFOR. “There were horses and stuff flying around everywhere.”

Moore, and the Oklahoma City region, are far too familiar with disaster. In 1995, 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

In 1999 and then again in 2003, Moore took direct hits from tornadoes that took eerily similar paths to Monday’s storm. The 1999 storm packed the strongest wind speeds in history, Lamb said.

“We’re a tough state. This is a tough community,” Lamb said. “There is hope. We always have hope. We always have faith.”

More trouble brewing

The storm system that spawned Monday’s tornado and several other twisters Sunday isn’t over yet.

Southwest Arkansas and northeast Texas, including Dallas, are under the gun for severe weather Tuesday. Those areas could see large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes.

A broader swath of the United States, from Texas to Indiana and up to Michigan, could see severe thunderstorms.

“We could have a round 3,” CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said. “Hopefully, it won’t be as bad.”

CNN’s Michael Pearson and Holly Yan wrote and reported from Atlanta, and Gary Tuchman reported from Moore. CNN’s George Howell, Dana Ford, Nick Valencia, AnneClaire Stapleton, Phil Gast, Ed Payne, Joe Sutton and Miriam Falco contributed to this report.

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Footage from Oklahoma the day after a tornado ravaged parts of the state, leaving dozens dead and destroying several buildings. (WGN-TV)

An Oklahoma man describes his experience during the massive tornado that struck the state. (CNN)

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