SHAWNEE, Okla. —
A powerful late-afternoon tornado leveled much of this Oklahoma community Monday, killing at least 51 people. Reporters on helicopters flying above the scene described the scene as “devastating.”
So complete was the wreckage, they said it was hard to pinpoint exactly what neighborhoods had been hit because so little was left standing.
The storm may have stayed on the ground for as long as an hour. The tornado was reportedly on the ground for more than 11 miles with winds up to 200 mph.
A school was damaged, and in nearby Norman, Okla., children had been given permission to check out earlier in what was expected to be another afternoon of severe storms.
More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 70 children.
Over the weekend, Oklahoma was hit by numerous tornadoes.
Earlier, Gov. Mary Fallin declared the state a disaster area. Monday’s tornadoes, which TV weathermen said may have been an F4 or perhaps even an F5 tornado, were still circulating in other parts of the state.
Fallin called out Oklahoma National Guard troops. President Barack Obama pledged his assistance to the state.
A farm, which reportedly housed 70 or more horses, was especially hard hit. Some of the animals died and veterinarians said they expected others would be euthanized.
Moore, Okla., police and rescue units have employed a huge rescue effort, said Moore Public Information Officer Jeremy Lewis.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lewis said. “Our entire central part of town is leveled. Pretty much the heart of our business district is gone.”
Lewis said he has never seen anything like this, “and I have lived in Moore my entire life.”
Damage was reported within at least three elementary schools. At Plaza Towers Elementary School, the storm tore off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal.
Children from the school were among the dead, but several students were pulled alive from the rubble. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain to the triage center in the parking lot.
The storm and its path were reminiscent of the May 3, 1999, tornado. Entire neighborhoods were flattened with construction debris and vehicles blocking the street.
Norman Regional Hospital officials were asking all clinical staff to report to the Healthplex to help treat storm injuries. Thirteen patients were transported. One was sent to the Norman Regional Healthplex and 12 to Norman Regional.
The Moore Medical Center on I-35 sustained major damage and patients were being transferred to Norman Regional’s two Norman campuses. An elementary school in Moore was hit and police were putting search dogs in the building. As of 4:40 p.m., there were no confirmed fatalities at Briarwood Elementary School.
Interstate 35 was virtually shut down before 5 p.m. as traffic in both directions slowed to a crawl. Moore Mayor Glen Lewis was en route to Briarwood Elementary shortly before 5 p.m.
Scattered power outages were reported in southwest Norman. Cable television was also knocked out for some time.
— The Norman Transcript staff and the Associated Press contributed to this story.