Rescue workers neared the end of the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb, where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives, including those of nine children.
After nearly 24 hours of searching, Moore’s fire Chief Gary Bird said he was confident there were no more bodies or survivors in the rubble.
“I’m 98 percent sure we’re good,” Mr. Bird said on Tuesday.
Authorities were so focused on the search effort that they had yet to establish the full scope of damage along the storm’s long, ruinous path.
GPS devices used
They did not know how many homes were gone or how many families had been displaced. Emergency crews had trouble navigating devastated neighborhoods because there were no street signs left. Some rescuers used smart phones or GPS devices to guide them through areas with no recognizable landmarks.
The death toll was revised downward from 51 after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been counted twice in the confusion. More than 200 people were treated at area hospitals.
By Tuesday afternoon, every damaged home in Moore had been searched at least once, Mr. Bird said. His goal was to conduct three searches of each building just to be certain there were no more bodies or survivors.
The fire chief was hopeful that could be completed before nightfall, but efforts were being hampered by heavy rain.
Crews also continued a brick-by-brick search of the rubble of a school that was blown apart with many children inside.
No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night, Mr. Bird said.
Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm’s wrath, which many endured as they shielded loved ones.
Chelsie McCumber grabbed her 2 year-old son, Ethan, wrapped him in jackets and covered him with a mattress before they squeezed into a coat closet of their house. Mc Cumber sang to her child when he complained it was getting hot inside the small space.
“I told him we’re going to play tent in the closet,” she said, beginning to cry.
“I just felt air, so I knew the roof was gone,” she said on Tuesday, standing under the sky where her roof should have been.
“Time just kind of stood still” in the closet, she recalled. “I was kind of holding my breath thinking this isn’t the worst of it. I didn’t think that was it. I kept waiting for it to get worse.”
“When I got out, it was worse than I thought,” she said.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin lamented the loss of life, especially of the nine children killed, but she celebrated the town’s resilience.
“We will rebuild, and we will regain our strength,” Ms. Fallin said.
In revising its estimate of the storm’s power, the National Weather Service said the tornado, which was on the ground for 40 minutes, was a top of the scale EF5 twister with winds of at least 320 kilometres per hour.
Other search and rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the storm ripped off the roof, knocked down walls and destroyed the playground as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.
Seven of the nine dead children were killed at the school, but several students were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage center in the parking lot. Some students looked dazed, others terrified.
Officials were still trying to account for a handful of children not found at the school who may have gone home early with their parents, Mr. Bird said on Tuesday.