At least 24 people are reported dead after Monday afternoon's huge tornado, which destroyed whole neighborhoods of an Oklahoma City suburb. Authorities have released conflicting information about the death toll as survivors emerge from the rubble, moving away from earlier accounts of between 50 to more than 90 fatalities.
The search for survivors continues on Tuesday morning around the suburb of Moore, and rescuers are desperately digging through the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where several children are still missing, believed to be trapped under the wrecked building. At least seven students have been confirmed to be killed by the storm.
Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN Tuesday morning that, "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.
Entire neighborhoods were completely leveled as the tornado registered as a category 4 on the Fujita scale, the second most powerful classification of tornado. Only sixteen minutes passed between the first tornado warning and when the tornado touched ground. During the forty minuted it was on the ground, it traveled over ten miles to Moore.
On Tuesday morning, residents still in shock wandered near their wrecked former homes, looking through the flattened structures for missing neighbors. After emerging from her home on Monday, Kelcy Trowbridge described to the Times her husband coming across the body of a young girl.
“He knew she was already gone,” Ms. Trowbridge told the Times. “When the police got there, he just bawled.” She continued, “My neighborhood is gone. It’s flattened. Demolished. The street is gone. The next block over, it’s in pieces.”
The president has declared Oklahoma a major disaster area and is set to address the nation at 10 AM.
More updates to come.
10:50 AM EST: "Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma." President Obama addressed the disaster in Oklahoma from the White House:
[There was a video here]
10:20 AM EST: More storms are moving towards Moore.
911am-occasional cloud to ground lightning heading into disaster relief areas of Newcastle/Moore. Additional storms next 2hrs. #okwx— NWS Norman (@NWSNorman) May 21, 2013
9:25 AM EST: Twenty-four seems to be the number of deaths confirmed so far.
BREAKING: Medical examiner's office revises death toll from Oklahoma tornado to at least 24.— The Associated Press (@AP) May 21, 2013
"We have got good news. The number right now is 24," said Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer at the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner's Office. The prior figure of 51 dead may have included some double-reported casualties, Elliott said.
"There was a lot of chaos," Elliott said.
It's unclear whether this number includes the 40 more bodies expected to be delivered to the medical examiner's office. No other news source has reported on this new number.
9:05 AM EST: This aerial photo shows the path of the tornado through a development. Houses only two blocks away from the tornado were spared, while those in the path were completely destroyed.
8:45 AM EST: Today is reporting that rescuers were able to help more than 100 people escape from debris.
8:05 AM EST: Severe weather in the area continues to hamper rescue efforts and threaten already devastated areas with further destruction. It's been raining in Moore this morning, but forecasters believe it will be spared a second tornado.