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4:02 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

The Search For Survivors In Oklahoma

 

Credit Sue Ogrocki / AP/NPR

  (AP)  Emergency crews searched the broken remnants of an Oklahoma City suburb Tuesday for survivors of a massive tornado that flattened homes and demolished an elementary school. At least 24 people were killed, including at least nine children, and those numbers were expected to climb. 

The state medical examiner's office cut the estimated death toll by more than half but warned that the number was likely to climb again. Gov. Mary Fallin said authorities did not know how many people were still missing, but vowed to account for every resident. 

``We will rebuild, and we will regain our strength,'' said Fallin, who went on a flyover of the area and described it as ``hard to look at.'' 

Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner, said she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm that struck Monday afternoon. Downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem, she said. 

``It was a very eventful night,'' Elliott said. ``I truly expect that they'll find more today.'' 

Authorities initially said as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children. 

New search-and-rescue teams moved at dawn Tuesday, taking over from the 200 or so emergency responders who had worked all night. A helicopter shined a spotlight from above to aid in the search. 

Many houses have ``just been taken away. They're just sticks and bricks,'' the governor said, describing the 17-mile path of destruction. 

The National Weather Service said the twister was on the ground for 40 minutes, with winds estimated at 190 mph. The agency issued an initial finding that the tornado was EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale _ the second strongest type of tornado _ and that it was at least half a mile wide. 

Emergency crews were having trouble navigating neighborhoods because the devastation is so complete, and there are no street signs left standing, Fallin added. 

Fire Chief Gary Bird said fresh teams would search the whole community at least two more times to ensure that no survivors _ or any of the dead _ were overlooked. Crews painted an `X' on each structure to note it had been checked. 

``That is to confirm we have done our due diligence for this city, for our citizens,'' Bird said. 

The community of 56,000 people, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, braced for another long, harrowing day. 

``As long as we are here ... we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors,'' said Trooper Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. 

More than 200 people had been treated at area hospitals. 

Other search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm ripped off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.