MOORE, Okla. — With less than 16 minutes of warning, a monstrous tornado at least a mile wide roared through Oklahoma City suburbs yesterday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow. At least 51 were reported dead last night, including 20 children.
The death toll was expected to climb last night.
The storm laid waste to scores of buildings in Moore, a community of 41,000 people south of the city. Block after block lay in ruins. Homes were crushed into piles of broken wood. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.
The National Weather Service issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, the second most-powerful type of twister.
More than 140 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 70 children.
Tiffany Thronesberry said she heard from her mother, Barbara Jarrell, shortly after the tornado.
“I got a phone call from her screaming, ‘Help! Help! I can’t breathe. My house is on top of me!’” Thronesberry said.
Thronesberry hurried to her mother’s house, where first responders had already pulled her out. Her mother was hospitalized for treatment of cuts and bruises.
Rescuers launched a desperate rescue effort at the school, pulling children from heaps of debris and carrying them to a triage center.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with search-and-rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers.
Fallin also spoke with President Barack Obama, who offered the nation’s help and gave Fallin a direct line to his office.
Many land lines to stricken areas were down and cellphone traffic was congested. The storm was so massive that it will take time to establish communications between rescuers and state officials, the governor said.
In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen marching slowly across the green landscape. As it churned through the community, the twister scattered shards of wood, pieces of insulation, awnings, shingles and glass all over the streets.