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May 22, 2013

Death toll 24, search complete, in Oklahoma

Storm's wrath to property along its path still under investigation

MOORE, Okla. — Helmeted rescue workers raced Tuesday to complete the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives.

Scientists concluded the storm was a rare and extraordinarily powerful type of twister known as an EF5, which is capable of lifting reinforced buildings off the ground, hurling cars like missiles and stripping trees completely free of bark.

Meanwhile, residents of Moore began returning to their homes a day after the tornado smashed some neighborhoods into jagged wood scraps and gnarled pieces of metal. In place of their houses, many families found only empty lots.

The fire chief said he was confident there are no more bodies or survivors in the rubble.

“I’m 98 percent sure we’re good,” Gary Bird said Tuesday at a news conference with the governor, who had just completed an aerial tour of the disaster zone.

Authorities were so focused on the search effort that they had yet to establish the full scope of damage along the storm’s long, ruinous path.

The death toll was revised downward from 51 after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been counted twice in the confusion.

Every damaged home had been searched at least once by late Tuesday, Bird said. His goal was to conduct three searches of each building just to be certain there were no more bodies or survivors.

The fire chief was hopeful that could be completed before nightfall but efforts were being hampered by heavy rain. Crews also continued a brick-by-brick search of the rubble of a school that was blown apart with many children inside.

No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night, Bird said.

Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm’s wrath, which many endured as they shielded loved ones.

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