A tornado with 320 kilometer per hour winds has killed at least 51
people and caused massive destruction in the central U.S. state of
Oklahoma, destroying two schools and entire neighborhoods.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office said the death toll was expected
to rise as rescue workers move deeper into the hardest-hit areas.
The 1.6 kilometer wide tornado hit Monday afternoon and destroyed large
swaths of Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb, injuring dozens of people,
sending debris flying and setting buildings on fire.
Rescue workers have pulled several children alive out of the rubble of
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to
assist with search-and-rescue operations.
Fallin also spoke with President Barack Obama, who asked the Federal
Emergency Management Agency to provide any assistance she needs.
The severe weather outbreak was expected to spread across other parts of
the Plains and the Midwest. An earlier tornado killed two people in
The National Weather Service placed parts of five storm-battered states
- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas - under a tornado
watch, meaning conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop.
The same suburb of Oklahoma City was hit hard by a tornado in 1999. That
storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the Earth's surface.
A tornado transformed the part of Moore directly in its path from a
quiet middle class community into a field of debris. Rescue teams were
digging through piles of wrecked wood, twisted metal and other rubble
searching for victims who may have been trapped.
Rick Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Storm
Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, just south of Moore, says the
danger has not yet passed.
"We are going to be dealing with this for several hours it looks like
and then, hopefully, after today it will quiet down for a while," said
Smith says storms are common at this time of year in Oklahoma and nearby
states, an area often called "Tornado Alley." He says the monster
tornadoes are the result of humid air close to the ground and wind
conditions both near the ground and high up in the atmosphere.
"We have had very strong winds aloft and at the surface that creates
what we call wind shear, that makes the storms start to rotate, and then
we have had upper level disturbance, a storm system in the upper levels
of the atmosphere, that moved out across Oklahoma this afternoon and the
storms went from nothing to intense, dangerous storms in less than an
hour," he said.
one can predict exactly where a tornado will come down within the wide
area covered by a storm system, but Rick Smith says Storm Prediction
Center forecasters do everything possible to warn people.
"We were in close contact with emergency school systems and everything
and our forecast and our information indicated that this was going to be
as bad or worse than yesterday and it looks like that has definitely
been the case," he said.
Tornadoes on Sunday killed two people in communities south and east of
Oklahoma City. On Monday, legislators in the state Capitol cancelled
sessions and took shelter along with state government employees as the
storm clouds passed over the city. A full assessment of death, injury
and damage from these tornadoes is likely to take days and the threat of
more tornadoes in the area is far from over.