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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Out of the 51 deaths initially reported in Monday's powerful tornado in central Oklahoma, 24 bodies have been transferred to the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner’s Office, the agency said Tuesday. An update from the medical examiner was expected at 11 a.m. ET.

Dozens of people — including several 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, according to a police official.

Early Tuesday, emergency personnel continued to scour the school's rubble — a scene of twisted I-beams and crumbled cinder blocks.

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 metropolitan area, KFOR reported.

The preliminary rating of the tornado was at least EF4 (166 to 200 mph), the National Weather Service said.

Latest updates:

– President Barack Obama said, “Oklahoma needs to get everything it needs right away” to recover from powerful tornado that ripped through the Oklahoma City region Monday.

– Flags are expected to be lowered at the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday morning in honor of the victims of a massive tornado that struck central Oklahoma the day before, House Speaker John Boehner said.

– Out of the 51 deaths initially reported in Monday's powerful tornado in central Oklahoma, 24 bodies have been transferred to the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner's Office, the agency said Tuesday. An update from the medical examiner was expected at 11 a.m. ET.

Previously reported:

– New York's governor expressed his sympathy for Oklahomans in the aftermath of the “horrific tornado” that swept through the Oklahoma City region on Monday. “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,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement 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 after tornadoes slammed the state, Gov. Mary Fallin told CNN on Tuesday.

– More than 40,000 customers remain 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.

– Glenn Lewis, the mayor of tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, 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 in metropolitan Oklahoma City after a tornado hit the area Monday, 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, Oklahoma, during Monday's storm drowned in a basement area there, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN 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.

– The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office has been told to expect about 40 additional bodies, including about 20 children, according spokeswoman Amy Elliott. The official death toll of 51 will not rise until the bodies are processed, she said earlier. The current toll already includes at least 20 children who were killed by the storm.

– At least 145 people have been hospitalized in the Oklahoma City, hospital officials said. The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center received 45 children for treatment on Monday, according Dr. Roxie Albrecht.

– President Barack Obama will make a statement at approximately 10 a.m. ET after he is briefed on the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado devastation, a White House official told CNN. The statement will be delivered in the State Dining Room.

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

– The president told the Oklahoma governor that the federal government “stands ready to provide all available assistance” as part of the response to a series of deadly storms that have struck the Oklahoma City area, including Monday's devastating tornado.

– Queen Elizabeth II sent her condolences to those affected by Monday's massive deadly Oklahoma tornado, saying on Twitter: “Our deepest sympathies go out to all those whose lives have been affected, as well as the American people #Oklahoma #tornado.”

– Pope Francis urged people to join him in praying for the families of those who died in the massive tornado in central Oklahoma on Monday, “especially those who lost young children,” he said in a tweet Tuesday.

– French President Francois Hollande expressed his grief over the casualties caused by the ferocious Oklahoma tornado and saluted the “mobilization” of citizens who tackled “this exceptional situation with courage and determination.”

– German Chancellor Angela Merkel passed along her condolences to President Obama over the casualties and destruction caused by the mammoth tornado that tore through Oklahoma on Monday. “The pictures of this catastrophe render us speechless and can only hint at the scope of the hurt,” Merkel told the president Tuesday.

- Pakistan and Spain issued condolences to the people affected by the deadly Oklahoma tornado. “We are particularly grieved over the loss of innocent children and their teachers who were buried under the rubble,” the Pakistan government said. The Spanish government said “the Spanish people, at these tragic times, feel even closer to the American people, and share their pain.”

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Clinging to the hope of finding more survivors, rescue workers scoured mountains of rubble Tuesday where houses and schools once stood.

But as they searched through the night and Tuesday morning, the sobering death toll continued to climb in this city far too familiar with nature’s wrath.

The vicious tornado that ripped across central Oklahoma on Monday killed at least 51 people — with about 40 more bodies expected to arrive at the Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office, Amy Elliott of the coroner’s office said. Roughly half of the expected bodies are children.

The official death toll will gradually rise from 51 as each of the bodies are processed, Elliott said.

Already, at least 20 of those killed were children, including seven from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore — the site of a frantic search Tuesday morning.

The school was in the direct path of the storm’s fury. About 75 students and staff members hunkered down in Plaza Towers when the tornado hit, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.

At one point, an estimated 24 children were missing from the school, but some later turned up at nearby churches. It’s unclear how many may still be trapped in the wreckage, and how many are dead or alive.

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 also fell victim to the tornado.

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

So 145 people 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.

Not the first time

Even for a city toughened by massive tornadoes, Moore has never seen this kind of devastation.

The suburb recovered from a fierce twister in 1999 that killed six people there and dozens in the area. When that tornado struck, it had the strongest wind speed in history, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Tom Lamb said.

Another tornado ripped through Moore in 2003, Lamb said.

This time, the 2-mile-wide twister stayed on the ground for a full 40 minutes, carving a 22-mile path where thousands of residents live.

The twister first touched down in Newcastle, Oklahoma, before ripping into neighboring Moore.

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

The death toll has far surpassed anything the city has seen from a tornado — and is expected to climb.

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

“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.”

Hiding in freezers

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

At the devastated hospital in Moore, some doctors had to jump in 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.

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

More trouble brewing

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

Northeast Texas, including Dallas, and southwest Arkansas are under the gun for severe weather Tuesday. Those areas could see large hail, damaging winds and possibly 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,” Cabrera aid. “Hopefully, it won’t be as bad.”

Still digging

Plaza Towers Elementary School was one of countless buildings crushed by the tornado. The twister sucked up debris and swirled it several miles into the sky.

“The structures that were just demolished were picked up by the twister here and just jetted up into the atmosphere 20,000 feet,” Cabrera said.

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 the school.

“I felt it was my duty to come help,” Dickens 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.”

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

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Cell phone video captures Oklahoma tornado in action

Raw footage of a tornado hitting Oklahoma and the destruction it left behind. (WGN-TV)

There are many ways to help support the victims of the Oklahoma tornado.

Red Cross

Donate online to redcross.org/okc ortext “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make

Salvation Army

Text “STORM” to 80888 to make an automatic $10 donation

Moore, Oklahoma Relief Fund

Monetary donations accepted at www.TulsaCF.org

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Monetary donations encouraged online at regionalfoodbank.org

The Humane Society of Central Oklahoma

Donate supplies and money at okhumane.org

Dr. Chuck Doswell, senior research meteorologist with the University of Oklahoma on the destruction in Oklahoma.

Raw: Footage from Oklahoma tornado and aftermath

NOAA Chief: Oklahoma damage is ‘beyond words’

Rescue workers raced against time and the oncoming night Monday looking for survivors after a powerful tornado blasted an area outside of Oklahoma City, leveling homes and killing at least 51 people.

At least seven of the dead were children from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, which lay directly in the path of the monster storm’s wall of wind.

Seventy-five students and staff members had been huddled at the school when the storm hit, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.

As nightfall approached, determined searchers in hard hats dug in the debris for students possibly trapped, but authorities described the work as a recovery, not rescue, effort.

A father of a third-grader still missing sat quietly on a stool. Tears fell from his eyes as he waited for news of his son.

A temporary flight restriction was put in place over the school so that aircraft would stay away and emergency officials on the ground might hear any cries for help, said Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration.

After the ear-shattering howl of the killer storm subsided, survivors along the miles of destruction emerged from shelters to see an apocalyptic vision — the remnants of cars twisted and piled on each other to make what had been a parking lot look like a junk yard. Bright orange flames flew from a structure that was blazing even as rain continued to fall.

“Our worst fears are becoming realized this afternoon,” Bill Bunting, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center, told CNN.

“We certainly hope everyone heeded the warnings, but it’s a populated area and we just fear that not everyone may have gotten the word,” he said.

Bodies of those killed in the storm were being sent to Oklahoma’s office of the chief medical examiner, said the office’s Amy Elliott. Authorities had no immediate estimate on the number of injured.

The preliminary rating of damage created by the tornado is at least EF4 (winds 166 to 200 mph) — the second-most severe classification on a scale of zero to five — the National Weather Service said.

The tornado was estimated to be at least two miles wide at one point as it moved through Moore, KFOR reported.

Lando Hite, shirtless and spattered in mud, told the affilaite about the storm hitting the Orr Family Farm in Moore, which had about 80 horses.

“It was just like the movie ‘Twister,’” he said, standing amid the debris. “There were horses and stuff flying around everywhere.”

The tornado damaged several barns and he was worried many of the animals were killed.

Hite said he did not hear any warnings or sirens.

“It was real windy and everything stopped. Being from Oklahoma, I knew that was not right.”

Twenty patients, including 12 adults and eight children, were in trauma rooms at Oklahoma University (OU) Medical Center and at the Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, said spokesman Scott Coppenbarger.

Injuries ranged from minor to critical.

Moore Medical Center in Oklahoma was evacuated after it sustained damage, a hospital spokeswoman said.

All patients were being evacuated to Norman Regional Hospital and Healthplex Hospital, and residents injured in the storm were being told to go to those centers as well.

Norman Regional Hospital and the Healthplex were treating an unspecified number of people with “signs of trauma, lacerations and broken bones,” spokeswoman Melissa Herron said.
10 deadliest tornadoes on record

Interstate 35 in Moore was closed as a result of debris from the tornado, Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said. Crews were heading to the north-south highway to start the cleanup process.

“People are trapped. You are going to see the devastation for days to come,” said Betsy Randolph, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Highway Patrol. She did not say how many people were trapped.

More than 38,000 electricity customers in Oklahoma are without power, according to local power providers.

As authorities and rescue workers struggle to get handle on the damage, NOAA’s Bunting warned the worst may be yet to come.

Capture“These storms are going to continue producing additional tornadoes. They’ll also produce some very, very large hail, perhaps larger than the size of baseballs. We’re also concerned that there may be an enhanced and widespread damaging wind threat with storms as they merge together,” he said.

“As bad as today is, this is not over yet.”

Oklahoma resident: ‘It’s just all gone’

The severe weather came after tornadoes and powerful storms ripped through Oklahoma and the Midwest earlier Monday and on Sunday.

Forecasters had said that the destructive weather, which killed at least two people, was perhaps just a preview.

Even before Monday afternoon’s devastation, residents in areas hard hit by weekend storms were combing through rubble where their homes once stood.

“My mind is, like, blown, completely blown,” said Jessie Addington, 21, who found that few pieces of her childhood home in Shawnee, Oklahoma, were still standing Monday.

Addington, who now lives in a nearby town, said her mother huddled in the mobile home’s bathroom when the weekend storm hit. But the tornado still tossed her around like a rag doll, leaving her bruised.

When Addington arrived, she was shocked to find the neighborhood where she had lived for 17 years reduced to ruins.

“I’m feeling cheated, to be honest,” she said, “like, it’s just all gone.”

An estimated 300 homes were damaged or destroyed across Oklahoma in weekend weather, Red Cross spokesman Ken Garcia said.

Two men, both in their 70s, were confirmed dead as a result of an earlier tornado that hit Shawnee, said Elliott, the spokeswoman for the state medical examiner’s office.

As many as 28 tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa, according to the National Weather Service, with Oklahoma and Kansas the hardest hit. Some of those reports might have been of the same tornado.

A combination of factors — including strong winds and warm, moist air banging against dry air — means severe weather could continue sweeping across a wide swath of the United States for days, Petersons said.

“Keep in mind we have all the ingredients out there that we need,” she said.

Tornado watches were in effect for portions of southeastern Kansas, western and central Missouri, northwest Arkansas, central and eastern Oklahoma and northwestern Texas until 10 p.m. (11 p.m. ET).
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Raw: People walk along deserted, destroyed streets in Oklahoma

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