Rescuers scramble after US tornado

2013-05-21 18:32
(Photo: AP)

(Photo: AP)

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Oklahoma City - US rescue teams scoured a shattered suburb for survivors on Tuesday after a giant tornado tore through the outskirts of Oklahoma City, killing at least two dozen people, including nine children.

State medical examiner's office spokesperson Amy Elliott told reporters 24 victims had been confirmed dead, scaling back from a previous count of 51 that she attributed to possible double reporting.

Seven of the dead children were found at a school, she added.

Meanwhile, at least 101 people have been pulled alive from the debris, said Terri Watkins of the Oklahoma department of emergency management.

Local broadcasters said more than 200 people have been injured.

Some of the children killed by the mid-afternoon twister were buried when the 3km wide funnel of wind - that lasted about 45 minutes - demolished an elementary school in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

President Barack Obama declared a "major disaster" as crews combed the wreckage of the shattered community, where even residents with long memories of past storms were shocked by the devastation.

In televised remarks from the White House, Obama made special mention of the young victims as he mourned those lost and promised to provide survivors with the help they need to find their footing.

"The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground there for them, beside them as long as it takes for their homes and schools to rebuild," Obama said.

The killer tornado - packing powerful winds of up to 322km - flattened block after block of homes, set off fires, ripped down power lines and tossed cars around.

The Moore medical centre was evacuated after it was damaged and state authorities called out the National Guard to help rescue efforts as Obama ordered federal aid to supplement local recovery efforts.

Rescue operations already hindered by the mounds of debris and fallen power lines could be further disrupted by more foul weather.

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

Few homes are built with basements or storm shelters in which residents can take cover because of the hard ground.

Oklahoma City lies inside the so-called "Tornado Alley" stretching from South Dakota to central Texas, an area particularly vulnerable to tornadoes.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  weather  |  natural disasters  |  oklahoma tornado

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