Oklahoma – At least two dozen children were killed at an elementary school after a monstrous tornado as much as a mile wide with winds up to 200 mph roared through, flattening entire neighborhoods, and setting buildings on fire.
KFOR-TV reports that up to 24 children are believed dead at the Plaza Towers Elementary School and that it has turned into a search and recovery effort. The storm tore off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal. Several children were pulled alive from the rubble, however. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain to a triage center in the parking lot.
At least seven of the children drowned after being found at the bottom of a pool at Plaza Towers, according to KFOR.
The storm laid waste to scores of buildings in Moore, south of the city. Block after block of the community lay in ruins, with heaps of debris piled up where homes used to be. 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.
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.
Volunteers and first responders raced to search the debris for survivors.
James Rushing, who lives across the street from the Plaza Towers school, heard reports of the approaching tornado 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.
The students were placed in the restroom.
“There’s no safe room in the school. There will be,” said Rushing, who said his home was virtually destroyed.
All of the children at the elementary school that took the direct blow, Briarwood Elementary School, have been accounted for, according to KWTV.
KFOR-TV meteorologist Mike Morgan called this “the worst tornado damage in the history of the world.”
KWTV reports that there are multiple fatalities in Moore, including a 3-month-old baby and a 4-year-old and three people at a local 7-Eleven. KFOR reports that up to 100 horses were killed on one farm in Moore.
Jim Couch, city manager for Oklahoma City, told CBS News that the area is facing “significant damage.”
“We are in search and rescue mode at this time,” Couch said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has deployed 80 Oklahoma National Guard members to assist with search and rescue operations in the hardest hit areas of Moore.
Fallin said Monday the troops will also help establish a perimeter around some of the most devastated areas in the Oklahoma City suburb.
Fallin also spoke Monday with President Barack Obama who offered the nation’s help and gave Fallin a direct line to his office.
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.
The same suburb was hit hard by a tornado in 1999. That storm had the distinction of producing the highest winds ever recorded near the earth’s surface – 302 mph.
Read more at CBS.