By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News
A monster two-mile-wide tornado ripped through southern Oklahoma City and the suburb of Moore on Monday afternoon, leaving homes and schools in ruins and fires burning out of control.
There was no immediate word on casualties, but aerial footage showed major destruction: flattened homes, cars flipped over and crushed, residents milling around in shock or combing through debris.
At one wrecked school, search crews were trying to account for students in kindergarten through third grade, NBC station KFOR reported.
“I lost everything,” a shirtless man told a reporter as he walked in a daze through the ruins of a horse farm that was obliterated. “We might have one horse left out of all of them.”
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Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokeswoman Betsy Randolph said 200 people with minor injuries were being treated at a triage center. “Some are more grotesque,” she said of the injuries.
“We do have hope,” she added. “We are seeing people crawling out of vehicles…crawling out of buildings.”
Randolph told KFOR she did not know if there were any confirmed fatalities.
“Just being down here and seeing the rubble and the devastation, I can’t imagine that we won’t have any, but I pray God that we won’t,” she said.
A forecaster for NBC station KFOR said the tornado kicked up a debris cloud about 2 miles wide as it tracked east into residential neighborhoods in the Moore area.
A preliminary report from the National Weather Service rated the storm as at least an EF4, the second-worst category. EF4 tornadoes have winds of 166 to 200 mph.
Oklahoma City police told NBC News southern portions of the city as well as the Moore suburb sustained “major damage… a lot of damage.”
Two elementary schools — Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore — were heavily damaged, KFOR reported.
It was unknown how many children may have been in the schools when the twister hit, but a KFOR reporter saw a student being rescued from Plaza Towers, where the roof was blown off and the cinderblock walls demolished.
Hysterical parents began arriving at Plaza Towers as crews searched the rubble. A teacher told a KFOR reporter that she lay on top of six kids in a bathroom as the tornado touched down to protect them.
Search and rescue teams converged on a staging area at the Warren Theater, which was also damaged, as the tornado churned toward other Oklahoma towns. The storms were expected to continue through the evening.
The tornado’s ferocity was reminiscent of a 1999 tornado outbreak in Oklahoma and Kansas that registered wind speeds of over 300 mph, left 46 dead and more than 8,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
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“A large part of the community has been affected,” Jayme Shelton, a spokesman for Moore, told MSNBC.
Tens of millions of people from Texas to the Great Lakes had been warned to brace for severe weather one day after a tornado outbreak killed two elderly men in Oklahoma and turned a trailer park into splinters.
The gravest threat appeared to be in Oklahoma and parts of Missouri, but forecasters warned that strong storms, damaging wind and pounding hail were possible as far north as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In all, an area covering 55 million people was under risk of severe weather, the National Weather Service said.
On Sunday, twisters killed two men in Shawnee, Okla., ages 79 and 76, and injured 21 others. The state medical examiner confirmed the second death Monday morning.
The storms also destroyed mobile homes, flipped trucks and sent people across 100 miles running for cover. In Kansas, a weather forecaster was forced off the airas a tornado bore down on his station.
“You can see where there’s absolutely nothing, then there are places where you have mobile home frames on top of each other, debris piled up,” Mike Booth, the sheriff of Pottawatomie County, Okla., told The Associated Press. “It looks like there’s been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour.”
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 16 counties. In Edmond, Randy Grau said he looked out a window and saw what he thought was a flock of birds heading down the street.
“Then I realized it was swirling debris,” he told The Weather Channel. “That’s when we shut the door of the safe room.”
In Wichita, Kan., a tornado touched down near the airport. Two tornadoes touched down Sunday night outside Des Moines, Iowa.
The storm system is making a slow march east. Severe storms will threaten the same part of the country Tuesday and parts of the Northeast on Wednesday, the weather service said.
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Source: Santa Clarita News