President Barack Obama declared a major disaster area in the region and ordered federal and local service to do their best in helping people after the deadliest U.S. tornado since one killed 161 people in Joplin, Missouri, two years ago.
Emergency groups were searching the wreckage of Plaza Towers Elementary School that took a direct hit from the disaster on Monday afternoon, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb told reporters.
There was an outpouring of grief and panic on the school’s Facebook page, with endless messaged from all over the country including one pleading simply: “Please find those little children.”
According to the Oklahoma medical examiner, 20 of the 91 feared to have been killed were children. The office had already confirmed that the tornado swept lives of 51 people. And experts had been already warned by emergency services to expect 40 more bodies found in the debris, but had not yet received them.
At least 60 of the 240 people injured were children, area hospitals said.
“We thought we died because we were inside the cellar door … It ripped open the door and just glass and debris started slamming on us and we thought we were dead to be honest,” Ricky Stover said while surveying the devastated remains of his home.
The force of the tornado was terrifying, said witnesses. One woman who was trapped inside her home, which collapsed in the wind, called her daughter to tell her she was short of breath.
Tiffany Thronesberry said she heard from her mother, Barbara Jarrell, shortly after the tornado struck.
“I got a phone call from her screaming, ‘Help! Help! I can’t breathe. My house is on top of me!’” she said.
She was later pulled out of the ruins of her home alive, writes The Telegraph.
Fire, rescue and emergency medical teams from across the state converged on Moore, reports Terri Watkins, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
“They are going to going to go house to house, building to building to determine whether anyone is trapped,”Ms Watkins said.
Amid the chaos, stories of survival emerged.
“We thought we died because we were inside the cellar door…It ripped open the door and just glass and debris started slamming on us and we thought we were dead to be honest,” Ricky Stover said while surveying the devastated remains of his home.
Cyndi Christopher was at work and intended to pick up her son from daycare when she heard the storm warning. After taking her son home, the woman was forced to flee when she noticed the storm was coming their way.
“I drove as fast as I could and I outran the storm,” she said.
The National Weather Service assigned the tornado a preliminary ranking of EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, meaning the second most powerful category of twists.
“The whole city looks like a debris field,” Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore, told reporters.
“It looks like we have lost our hospital. I drove by there a while ago and it’s pretty much destroyed,” he said.