Oklahoma Tornado Death Toll Reaches 24, Continues to Climb

UPDATED 05/21/2013 at 07:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/21/2013 at 07:20 AM EDT

Oklahoma Tornado Death Toll Reaches 24
A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School
Sue Ogrocki/AP
As Monday turned into Tuesday, the Oklahoma town of Moore, a community of 41,000 people 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, braced for another long, harrowing day following the monstrous tornado that struck mid-afternoon Monday and laid the town to waste, demolishing an elementary school and reducing homes to piles of splintered wood.

"As long as we are here ... we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors," said Trooper Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

While the medical examiner's office officially reported 24 dead Tuesday morning, more than 120 people are being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children. It was previously reported that as many as 91 people had died. Officials said the death toll was likely to climb, reports The New York Times.



Calling Out Names

After the twister hit, families gathered and anxiously waited at nearby churches to hear if their loved ones were okay. A man with a megaphone stood Monday 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.

While some parents and children hugged each other as they reunited, others were left to wait, fearing the worst as the night dragged on.

Crews continued their desperate search-and-rescue effort throughout the night at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm had ripped off the school's roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.

James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching twister and ran to the school, where his 5-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. Rushing believed he would be safer there.

"About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart," he said.



Federal Aid Ordered

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers.

Fallin also spoke Monday with President Barack Obama, who declared a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

The tornado also destroyed the community hospital and some retail stores. Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis watched it pass through from his jewelry shop.

"All of my employees were in the vault," Lewis said.

Monday's devastation in Oklahoma came almost exactly two years after an enormous twister ripped through the city of Joplin, Mo., killing 158 people and injuring hundreds more.

That May 22, 2011, tornado was the deadliest in the United States since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before Joplin, the deadliest modern tornado was June 1953 in Flint, Mich., when 116 people died.

GlobalGiving is raising funds for emergency supplies for victims, as well as longer-term relief and rebuilding efforts. Donate online or text GIVE OK to 80088 to donate $10 to GlobalGiving's Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund. Message and data rates may apply. Terms: mgive.org/t



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