MOORE, Okla. (CBS Houston/AP) — A monstrous tornado at least a half-mile wide roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds up to 200 mph. At least 51 people were killed, and officials said the death toll was expected to rise, according to CBS News.
KFOR-TV reports that “some” of the 20 to 30 children unaccounted for at the Plaza Towers Elementary School have been accounted for elsewhere. It is currently a search and recovery effort at the school. 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 debris in a pool of water at Plaza Towers, according to KFOR.
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 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 70 children.
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.
Volunteers and first responders raced to search the debris for survivors.
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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.
Douglas Sherman drove two blocks from his home to help rescue survivors.
“Just having those kids trapped in that school, that really turns the table on a lot of things,” he said.