As many as 24 people were killed and children were feared buried under the rubble of their school after a massive tornado ripped through suburban Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, leveling all in its path.
Whole neighborhoods were flattened, families shattered and loved ones unaccounted for in the chaos of wind-scattered debris. Rescue workers combed through the wreckage of two elementary schools as darkness covered destroyed communities.
Of the 91 dead, 20 were children, and a local TV station reported that one was a 7-month-old baby.
Tiffany Thronesberry thought her mother, Barbara Jarrell, might have been one of the victims. “I got a phone call from her screaming: ‘Help! Help! I can’t breathe. My house is on top of me!’” Thronesberry said.
First responders were able to rescue Jarrell.
But many weren’t so lucky in Moore, a town of 56,000 people 11 miles south of Oklahoma City that took a direct hit from the vicious vortex.
“The whole city looks like a debris field,” said Glenn Lewis, mayor of Moore.
The calamity blew into town on the heels of a twister Sunday in the same area that killed two people and injured more than 30.
Monday’s deadly funnel cloud also came almost two years to the day of the deadliest tornado to hit the United States since record-keeping began in 1950 — a catastrophic twister that slammed Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, killing 158 people and causing $2.8 billion in damage.
On Monday, residents were only given a warning of 16 minutes by the National Weather Service before the twister’s ferocious tail touched down, whipping up apocalyptic destruction.
Sirens sounded and screams filled the air as the 2-mile-wide buzzsaw struck at 3 p.m. and wreaked havoc on the ground for more than 40 terrifying minutes.
Some likened the sound of the storm to the roar of a train, a reporter for KFOR television in Oklahoma City said.