Oklahoma tornado: 20 children confirmed dead

2013-05-21 13:10

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Oklahoma – A monstrous tornado at least 800 metres wide roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs, flattening entire neighbourhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds up to 320 kilometres per hour.

At least 51 people were killed, including at least 20 children, and officials said the death toll was expected to rise.

The ferocious storm – less than 1% of all tornadoes reach such wind speed – ripped through the suburb of Moore in a Midwest region of the US known as Tornado Alley.

Spotlights bore down on massive piles of shredded cinder block, insulation and metal as crews worked through the night early today, lifting bricks and parts of collapsed walls.

Rescuers walked through neighbourhoods where yesterday’s powerful tornado flattened home after home and stripped leaves off of trees to see if they could hear any voices calling out from the rubble.

The storm laid waste to scores of buildings yesterday afternoon in Moore, a community of 41 000 people about 16 kilometres south of Oklahoma City.

Block after block lay in ruins. Homes were crushed into piles of broken wood. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.

Rescuers launched a desperate rescue effort at the elementary school, pulling children from heaps of debris and carrying them to a triage centre.

The National Weather Service estimated that the tornado reached up to 0.8km wide and was an EF-4 on the enhanced five-point Fujita scale, the second most powerful type of tornado.

More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children. And search-and-rescue efforts were to continue throughout the night.

Families anxiously waited at nearby churches to hear if their loved ones were safe. A man with a megaphone stood yesterday evening near St Andrews United Methodist Church and called out the names of surviving children.

Parents waited nearby, hoping to hear their sons’ and daughters’ names.

Amy Elliott, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, said early today that officials could see as many as 40 more fatalities from the tornado, in addition to the 51 already confirmed dead.

She said at least 20 children were among the confirmed dead.

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