Death Toll Expected to Climb
The vicious tornado that ripped across Moore, Oklahoma yesterday killed at least 24 people — with more
bodies expected to arrive at the Oklahoma state medical
examiner’s office, Coroner Amy Elliott said today. Roughly
nine of the bodies are children.
Even for a city toughened by massive tornadoes, Moore has never seen this kind of devastation.
Despite the woeful news, rescue workers clung to the hope of finding more survivors and scoured mountains of rubble where houses and schools once stood.
Many killed were children, including seven from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore — the site of a frantic search this morning. The school was in the direct path of the storm’s fury. About 75 students and staff members were hunkered down in Plaza Towers when the tornado struck.
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.
Parents of survivors couldn’t wrap their minds around the tragedy. 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.
“I’m speechless. How did this happen? Why did this happen?” he asked. “How do we explain this to the kids? … In an instant, everything’s gone.”
Across town, Moore Medical Center also succumbed to the tornado. Some doctors had to jump into a freezer to survive.
“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.” As a result, 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.
The town of Moore is far too familiar with the extent of nature’s wrath. The Oklahoma City suburb recovered from a fierce 1999 twister 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 tore through Moore in 2003.
This time, the two-mile-wide twister stayed on the ground for a full 40 minutes, carving a 22-mile path where thousands of residents live. The devastation and swath of destruction is mind boggling. The death toll has far surpassed anything the city has seen from a tornado — and is expected to climb.
The tornado 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.
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 was once a parking lot now looked like a junkyard.
“People are wandering around like zombies,” reporter Scott Hines said. “It’s like they’re not realizing how to process what had just happened.”
Hines said rescuers found a 7-month-old baby and its mother hiding in a giant freezer. But they didn’t survive.
The tornado sucked up debris along its path and swirled it several miles into the sky, landing up to 250 miles away. Resident 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 reporters. “There were horses and stuff flying around everywhere.”
“The structures that were just demolished were picked up by the twister here and just jettisoned up into the atmosphere, 20,000 feet,” reporting meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said.
James Dickens, a gas-and-oil pipeline worker, grabbed a hard hat and joined 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,” he said.
Southwest Arkansas and northeast Texas, including Dallas, are under the gun for severe weather today. 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 coming,” meteorologist Cabrera said.