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Oklahoma tornado blog: Scores dead, more missing

By Amy Simmons and staff, Tuesday May 21, 2013 - 14:53 EST

A huge tornado has killed at least 51 people and destroyed hundreds of homes in parts of Oklahoma City.

Two schools were among the buildings destroyed and 20 to 30 children were believed to be trapped beneath the rubble.

The death toll from the tornado, which is estimated to have been 3.2 kilometres wide, was expected to rise.

US media has described it as one of the most destructive tornadoes in recent history.

Look back at how the day's events unfolded (all times AEST):





1:48pm: President Barack Obama declares a major disaster in Oklahoma following the tornado and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.



1.25pm: This tornado is being described as "in the same league" as the most destructive storms on record in the United States. We've compiled a quick list of to have hit America's tornado belt.



1.03pm: How does a tornado form? This graphic explains the way a storm is born.





12.57pm: Google has released a map showing the path of the tornado across Moore.





12:39pm: The ABC's North America correspondent Lisa Millar has filed an update. Watch as weather presenters at a local television station in Wichita, Kansas, are forced to evacuate their studio as the storm bears down.





12:29pm: The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office has taken to Twitter to pay respect to those who have lost their lives.

Our thoughts/prayers are with those who have lost loved ones.   

?? Oklahoma Co. Sheriff (@OkCountySheriff) 





12:25pm: Rescue workers are frantically searching for survivors.

One Moore resident, Ricky Stover, says he is lucky to be alive.

"We thought we'd die. We were inside the cellar door, we locked the cellar door once we saw it coming, it got louder and next thing you know is you see the latching coming undone and we couldn't reach for it and it ripped open the door and just glass and debris started slamming on us and we thought we were dead to be honest."

Mr Stover says when the doors swung open they watched as his neighbour's house was torn to shreds.

Several people have been pulled alive from the rubble.









11:12am: Dr Patrick Marsh from Oklahoma City's NOAA Storm Prediction Centre says the tornado that hit Oklahoma was the most "intense kind of thunderstorm" that can happen.

The tornado spun up at 2:56pm and shortly thereafter right into the path of the Oklahoma City metro area.

At this time it is preliminary rated an EF4, but that is preliminary and there are indications that it could possibly go up.

The threshold between an EF4 and EF5 tornado is 200 miles per hour (300 kilometres per hour).

He says researchers are still trying to work out precisely what made this tornado so destructive.

Generally speaking, if a thunderstorm is a super cell thunderstorm, which means it is rotating, it has the potential to produce these big tornados.





11:06am: Survivors describe the chaos as the tornado tore through their town.





10:51am: Authorities are holding a press conference.

Governor Mary Fallin says as night approaches, rescue crews are doing everything they can to locate people missing in the debris.



Our hearts are just broken for the parents that are wondering on the state of their children that have been in the schools that have been hit today.

I know there are families wondering where their loved ones are and right now we are doing everything we can as a state to get as much emergency personnel, state agencies, all the different charities that are out doing search and rescue efforts, trying to make sure that we have looked under every single piece of debris and every single building and along the roads and communities to find anyone that might be injured or lost from the storms that have hit the state of Oklahoma. 







10:26am: The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says 51 people have been killed from the tornado and the toll is expected to rise.

Seven of those killed were children from the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

There are reports of more than 100 people still missing.



10:20am: Michael Welch, from Newcastle, took these dramatic videos of the tornado.

I was worried for the safety of people in the path, including friends and family in Moore. I knew by the speed of the rotation that it could be a long track tornado and I felt it was important to get a video of the situation as it developed.







10:12am: North America correspondent Lisa Millar says 16 counties have so far been described as emergency areas.



10:04am: Scott Hines, a local journalist, says there is no longer a search and rescue mission at Plaza Towers Elementary School. It is now a recovery mission.

He says there may be 20 to 30 children, aged between five and eight, beneath the rubble who did not make it out.

It's been horrific, it's been deadly, it's been devastating.

I've honestly never seen anything like it in my own backyard, in my community, this is a first.

So far we know that at least 11 are confirmed dead related to today's tornado.

I had a colleague, she witnessed with her own eyes rescuers pull from the rubble a seven-month-old, that baby's mother and then there are two other people, another man and a woman and they were all dead.

We're told they were trying to seek refuge in a giant freezer and they just - time ran out and they didn't make it.



9:55am: Tornado-damaged cars and buildings in Moore.





9:45am: The City of Moore has said via its Twitter account it no longer needs mutual aid from other cities.

It says a joint news conference with the City of OKC will be held at Moore City Hall at 7:30pm local time.



9:38am: CNN is now reporting 10 people have been killed.

Meteorologists say it left around a 77 square kilometre path of destruction.

Satellite images show over 3,000 homes were in the storm's path.

About 200,000 people live in the area of destruction.

The tornado was so huge, weather services say it could be upgraded to EF5, which is the highest possible category.



9:30am: The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office says law enforcement will work "around the clock" to help the victims. The Office has tweeted several photos from the city of Moore.







9:25am: Congressman Tom Cole represents the devastated area. He's told CNN the tornado "packed an unbelievable punch".

It's just devastating. Moore has been hit four times in 15 years. When you see something this size if you're not underground it packs an unbelievable punch. We were told in 1999 it was a once in a 400 year event, and this appears to be very close to that.

9:20am: Paula Wade, a woman who works in Moore, spoke to ABC News Online earlier. As she was driving through the town, she took this photo of the damage.





9:01am: CNN is reporting six people are dead, citing the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.



8:53am: The Oklahoma University Medical Centre says 20 people have already been admitted there, many in a critical or serious condition.



8:51am: Emergency management worker Jayme Shelton describes the search and rescue efforts which are underway.





8:45am: Paula, a woman who works in Moore, has told ABC News Online there is no power and "debris everywhere".

From what I have driven past and seen, there are houses on fire, sections of strip malls blown away and stores gutted.

Power lines down everywhere, streets are blocked. Highways and streets are shut down. People are walking around everywhere. Cars are stopped.

Debris is everywhere. It looks like leaves, dirt and insulation snowed everywhere and power is out in a huge chuck of town.



But Paula says she and her family are fine.

I don't live down here, but my office is one mile from where it hit. We have storm shelter at work.



8:34am: The two schools affected were Plaza Towers and Briarwood.

Plaza Towers has approximately 500 students. It is believed Year Three students were not evacuated from the school and rescuers are now searching the rubble for them.

Reporters on the ground say "cries for help" can be heard coming from the rubble.

ABC correspondent Ben Knight says the National Guard has been activated in response to the disaster.

This simple task of trying not only to find the survivors and account for them, but get the people who have been displaced to somewhere safe, is where the National Guard and other emergency services come in.

It's going to be a massive task to try and get these people fed and sheltered tonight and in the days ahead.



8:32 am: Keith Gaddie from the University of Oklahoma watched the storm pass near his home. He's told ABC News Breakfast weather warnings gave many people time to get to safety.

It developed very quickly. It went from being a meso cyclone to coming to the ground to intensifying in very very rapid fashion. And you cannot commend the storm trackers and the helicopter pilots enough for precisely tracking the storm and giving people ample warning. But this was a killer storm.





8:26am: Here is some more vision of the tornado touching down.





8:24am: The National Weather Service has categorised the tornado as at least an EF4, which is the second-highest level on the Fujita Scale of Tornado Intensity. EF4 tornadoes have wind speeds that are estimated at between 260 and 320 kilometres per hour.

There are reports the tornado is much worse than the 1999 tornado, which killed 141 people across the US Midwest and caused $1.5 billion worth of damage.



8:15am: Oklahoma reporter Dale Williams spoke with ABC News Breakfast:

The details are sketchy. The tornado moved through the south part of the Oklahoma City area, the suburb of Moore, Oklahoma. It did damage to an elementary school... That part of town has been totally barricaded off. No-one is allowed in or out. Parent are not sure if their children are safe at this time. Local police and fire and some of the emergency crews are on site as we speak. But again, I don't know the extent of any casualties or the details at this time.





8:12am: These photos from Moore show the tornado's destruction.







8:10am: Craig Buffington, an Oklahoma radio journalist, told ABC News Breakfast that he has seen some school children safe. But there are also reports that 75 children were in the school when it collapsed.

There were children hugging their parents and so I'm guessing that they had a good safe room built in for them to stay in. But I haven't seen any reports of how many accidents or injuries or if there is even been any fatalities reported yet. It's such a new story that we are still waiting to hear those details.



8:04am: One local resident has described the scene to CNN.

Kids everywhere. People running around screaming. There were cars on their side. Schools just gone. You really can't tell what was the front and what was the back anymore.

People were yelling, looking for their children.



8:00am: The town of Moore in Oklahoma City is one of the worst hit. It has a population of 55,000 people.





7:44am: Here's what we know so far...

The tornado has destroyed hundreds of houses and sparked fires, with local media reporting that two schools are among the buildings destroyed.

It is believed children and teachers are trapped at one of the schools.

Footage shows people walking around, dazed and confused, searching for items to recover from the rubble.

The tornado tore through a local hospital, and footage showed dozens of ruined cars piled together.

The Oklahoma City Police Department is urging residents to stay out of affected areas so emergency workers can respond as quickly as possible.

The Del City Fire Department says it has recalled all off-duty firefighters to assist in Moore, one of the towns in the tornado's path.

Newcastle, a town further south, was also hit hard.

A CNN reporter on the ground says it is the most horrific tornado he has ever seen.

"I've never seen anything like this in my 18 years of covering tornados," he said.

"It is absolute chaos down here."

The national weather service issued a rare tornado emergency for Oklahoma City's metropolitan area, meaning that significant and widespread damage and fatalities were likely.

Tornadoes frequently touch down on Oklahoma's wide open plains, but the fact that Monday's tornado struck a populated urban area raised fears of a high casualty toll.

On Sunday, a powerful storm system churning through the US Midwest spawned tornadoes in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, destroying homes and killing at least one person.



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