Moore was hit by a similar E5 tornado in 1999
UPDATE 5/23/13 12:15 PM:
UPDATE 5/22/13 10:45 AM:
ORIGINAL REPORT 5/21/13 1:22 PM:
The reports yesterday were coming in fast and furious and, unfortunately, somewhat inaccurate. At one point the death tally was reported at over 90. As of this morning, that has been dropped to 24 confirmed deaths. The state’s medical examiner said that number is expected to rise, as they were awaiting about 40 more bodies that had been pulled from the rubble.
Horrifically, some of those are children. The tornado leveled Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementary – on a school day. With the destruction of the schools, there is no way for rescuers to know how many children were inside, but at least seven died at Plaza Towers. Rescuers are digging into the debris as fast as possible, because they are still pulling out survivors; children who sheltered next to walls that then collapsed, trapping them but sheltering them at the same time. The National Guard has been called in to help with the search, as search dog teams from around the country responded to the call also.
There is just so much debris to search. “This is war-zone terrible,” Jon Welsh, a helicopter pilot for KFOR who lives in Moore, said while surveying the damage from the air. The tornado left a debris field 20 miles long and several miles wide, an estimated 30 square miles. According to the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., the tornado was on the ground for approximately 40 minutes, and a tornado warning was in effect for 16 minutes before the twister developed. Some of the photos are reminiscent of Sarajevo.
Communications are down over much of the area, as landline wires and cell phone towers were knocked down or destroyed. A water treatment plant in Oklahoma City was also damaged.
The Medical Center in Moore was in the tornado’s direct path. The ground floor is still standing, with the windows blown out; one window has the hood of a car jammed into it. The upper floors are destroyed. All injured who require a hospital are being transported to other nearby hospitals. There has been no specific information about injuries or deaths from the tornado at the hospital, but with only 16 minutes warning the expectation is that there were some.
The 106-acre Orr Family Farm was extremely damaged, its owner said. KFOR reported between 75 and 100 horses perished there as workers took shelter in horse stalls. Amazingly, some survived. Animals supplied some of the most heart-wrenching and joyful moments, as pets were found either dead or safe. Some photos of pet owners searching through the tornado debris show people taking extraordinary risks to reach their loved ones.
President Barak Obama declared Oklahoma a major disaster area, after previously directing FEMA to get all available assistance to the disaster area. Due to a smaller tornado that hit nearby on Sunday, the regional FEMA director was already in the area when the monster tornado plowed through Moore. The federal disaster designation makes federal aid available to residents of Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties.
The Internet is also responding. Families of potential victims were directed by the Red Cross to a website—safeandwell.org—for information about survivors. A page has been set up on Facebook as a clearinghouse for information and a place to post help available, like the nearby woman who will take in homeless horses.
The hope is that further disastrous weather will hold off long enough to find every survivor possible. This is the start of the tornado season, and tornados have touched down and killed people from Texas to Minnesota in the past two weeks. As the climate changes, and old weather patterns give way to new influences, “Tornado Alley” grows. It used to be defined as just the central Plains states, Texas north to the Dakotas. It would be fair to say that as of 2013, any region between the Rockies and the Appalachians can be considered at risk.