Tornado in Oklahoma suburb devastates schools, homes

Bloomberg NewsMay 20, 2013 

A tornado leaving a trail of destruction more than a mile wide swept across a suburb of Oklahoma City for at least a half hour, wrecking hundreds of homes and at least two schools.

The storm, with sustained winds of at least 166 miles per hour, struck the suburb of Moore, where images from a KFOR-TV helicopter showed the Plaza Towers Elementary School in a pile of rubble.

At least 75 students were in the school at the time, KFOR reported. As many as 30 may have been rescued, the station said. Structure fires were visible throughout the path of the storm.

"There are 13 kids that are buried right now," Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview in Washington. "There are 13 kids that are in a school that collapsed, we don’t know whether they are alive or dead.

"I have not heard of the number of deaths," Inhofe said. "But I was there in 1999. Some said this worse than it was in ’99."

The preliminary indications are that this was at least an EF-4 tornado, said Ryan Barnes, a weather service meteorologist in Norman, Oklahoma. An EF-4 has wind gust of 166 to 200 miles per hour for three seconds.

"They are still in the process of picking through the rubble to try to find survivors," Jerry Lojka, a spokesman for Oklahoma Emergency Management, said in an interview. "We know it was on the ground for 40 minutes. It was a mile and a quarter wide. It traveled across the entire city of Moore."

"There are entire blocks that are wiped clean to the foundations," Lojka said. ’It went through residential areas, business areas. We know a hospital is heavily damaged, two elementary schools are heavily damaged. Everything is so preliminary now we have no idea how many people were injured or possibly killed."

At least two people were killed Sunday and 39 injured as tornadoes struck Oklahoma, the Associated Press said. Two dozen tornado reports from Illinois to Oklahoma were logged by the storm center, according to the agency’s website.

Rescuers at Plaza Towers Elementary School are focusing on about 75 third-graders who were seeking cover in a hallway when the tornado hit, according to KFOR-TV.

The suburb of Moore was hit hard by a tornado in 1999. The storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth’s surface.

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