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WEATHER REPORT
Dozens dead as massive tornado strikes US city
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 21, 2013


US tornado victims recount race to survive
Washington (AFP) May 21, 2013 - Americans who survived the massive tornado that barrelled through an Oklahoma City suburb described racing for shelter only to emerge scarred and bloodied on a moon-like landscape of debris.

Alarms had sounded as the black funnel bore down on the suburb of Moore in the middle of the afternoon Monday, but no one anticipated the massive destruction that left dozens of people dead, including at least 20 children.

A woman with red scrapes on her face identified only as Elizabeth described to local television station KFOR-TV how she sped down a highway to try to get home to save her dog Ginger.

Once there, she jumped into a bathtub with the dog and an armful of pillows as the tornado shattered her windows. The twister lifted everything up and the next thing she knew, she had come to in the ruins of her home.

"I cannot believe we actually survived this thing," she said as she held the leash of her dog, which was apparently unharmed.

Stable worker Lando Hyde also thought of his animals first, racing to release several horses before diving into the stable to seek shelter. The storm tore down the stalls and dropped a pickup truck on top of them, he told KFOR.

"It was just unbearably loud and you could see stuff flying everywhere," he said.

Even seasoned weather forecasters were shocked at the two-mile (three-kilometer) wide swath of vicious winds, which packed more force than a maximum-strength category five hurricane.

The tornado destroyed at least two schools, including the Plaza Towers elementary school, where at least seven children were killed, according to CNN.

A sixth-grader identified only as Brady told CNN how he and other children were led into the bathrooms by teachers as the storm bore down only to be hastily evacuated later because of reports of a gas leak.

Rescue efforts began almost immediately, as concerned residents ran up and down the blocks of flattened houses calling out for survivors.

The search continued late into the night as first responders dug through the rubble, with the toll expected to rise.

The Midwestern state of Oklahoma lies in the so-called "Tornado Alley," a vast area from South Dakota to Texas that is prone to twisters, and a tornado carved a similar path through the Oklahoma suburbs in 1999, killing 44 people.

But residents were shocked at the extent of Monday's destruction, as helicopters captured pictures of block after block of destroyed homes.

"When I got home I realized that there's nothing left of my house," an unidentified woman told CNN.

"The front is still standing but the back is gone. My bathroom honestly is untouched. We've lost animals. We've lost everything," she said.

"I and my family's OK and we'll make it... But everything's gone."

Steve Wilkerson also lost his home, but said he was grateful that his family had survived.

"I'll get it together again. I'll get it going. I just want to break down and cry but you've got to be strong and keep going," he told CNN.

A powerful tornado swept through an Oklahoma City suburb on Monday, tearing down blocks of homes, two schools and leaving up to 91 people dead, including 20 children, local officials said.

US President Barack Obama declared a "major disaster" as rescuers combed through smashed homes and the collapsed remains of an elementary school in Moore, where twister-seasoned residents were shocked by the devastation.

Stunned weather forecasters reported a two-mile (three-kilometer) wide swath of vicious winds, and news helicopters tracked a dark funnel plowing through densely packed suburbs near the capital of the Midwestern state of Oklahoma.

"We've had a massive tornado, a huge one that has passed through this community," Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin told a news conference shortly after the mid-afternoon storm, which struck near the end of the school day.

"We know there are a lot of injuries. We know we've lost a tremendous amount of structures throughout this community and throughout the state," she said, as the Moore police chief urged people to leave the area.

The dead included at least 20 children, most of them under the age of 12, Amy Elliott, of the state medical examiner's office, told AFP.

She later said she could not confirm a rise from an earlier official toll of 51 but that she had been told to prepare for 40 more bodies.

CNN reported that at least 145 people had been hospitalized.

Reporters for local broadcaster KFOR-TV saw children as young as nine being pulled out of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, a residential community of 55,000 just south of Oklahoma's state capital.

Anxious parents were being kept at a distance while search-and-rescue workers scrambled to free the students.

A second elementary school, Briarwood, was also hit but did not appear to have suffered casualties.

From its news helicopter, KFOR's cameras captured scenes of widespread destruction, with street after street of single-story homes in Moore stripped of their roofs and cars piled atop each other like toys.

Utility lines were down and gas lines exposed, triggering localized fires. The Moore Medical Center was evacuated after it sustained damage, and state authorities called out the National Guard to help rescue efforts.

Obama ordered federal aid to supplement local recovery efforts.

On Twitter, the National Weather Service gave the tornado a preliminary rating of EF-4, indicating that it packed winds of 166 to 200 miles per hour (267-322 km/h) -- more severe than a category five hurricane.

In downtown Oklahoma City, tornado sirens went off at least three times and the Interstate 35 highway -- a busy north-south artery through the American heartland -- was closed to all but emergency vehicles.

In Moore, live images from KFOR showed people wandering among the debris and even a couple of untethered horses from a local stable that somehow managed to survive the punishing storm.

"I had no idea it was coming," said a stable worker, who told how he survived the "unbearably loud" twister by taking cover in one of the stalls.

Monday's tornado followed roughly the same track as a May 1999 twister that killed 44 people, injured hundreds more and destroyed thousands of homes.

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.

Because of the hard ground, few homes are built with basements or storm shelters in which residents can take cover.

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

But Moore's residents were shocked at the sprawling moon-like landscape left behind by the massive twister.

"There's nothing left of my house," an unidentified woman told CNN.

"The front is still standing but the back is gone. My bathroom honestly is untouched. We've lost animals. We've lost everything," she said.

Some 35,000 people remained without power early Tuesday, according to OG&E, the local utility.

On Sunday, a powerful storm system churning through the US Midwest spawned tornadoes in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, destroying homes and killing at least two people, US media reported.

Fallin had already declared a state of emergency for 16 Oklahoma counties due to the tornado threat on Sunday, and added five more on Monday after the storms hit her capital.

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