Several casualties including children have been reported after a historic tornado swept through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, devastating hundreds of buildings including two schools. Meteorologists reported winds up to 200 miles per hour.
A severe storm has generated baseball-sized hail, high winds and at least 28 tornadoes in the Midwest, including Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa. Residents remain in hiding as meteorologists forecast that the severe weather conditions will continue to generate destructive twisters.
A large tornado touched down in Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City on Monday, and seems to have caused catastrophic damage to several housing developments, and at least two schools in the area. Local television news deployed a helicopter to track the tornado as it moved through the area, and then began to survey the extensive destruction to the region.
Officials say that 75 children and teachers took shelter at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, which was essentially flattened by the passing tornado, and was the site of an ongoing search effort. Several children were pulled out from the debris so far, with officials reporting that teachers had shielded students with their own bodies.
Students at another local school, Briarwood Elementary, were accounted for and moved to a safe location.
CBS confirmed multiple casualties, including a three month baby and a four-year-old child. There was also a report of the bodies of a man, woman and child found at a 7-Eleven convenience store.
There was confirmation of at least one structure on fire, possibly caused by a gas leak following the tornado’s path through the community. KOCO reported that cell phone service was down in the Moore region, and aerial footage showed wide swathes of homes wiped out.
Moore was last hit hard by a tornado in 1999. That storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth’s surface.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared 16 counties as disaster areas. Power companies reported that more than 57,000 outages left people in the dark. In Shawnee, Oklahoma, the body of a 79-year-old man was found lying in an open area of a mobile home community.
“You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter,” read a National Weather Service alert posted Sunday. “Complete destruction of neighborhoods, businesses and vehicles will occur. Flying debris will be deadly to people and animals.”
In some regions, homes were destroyed, cars and trucks were flipped from highways, downed power lines were sprawled across neighborhoods, and trees were uprooted. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol shut down Interstate 40 after semi-tractor trailer trucks and several other vehicles were flipped by wind gusts, Newsok.com reported.
“It’s tearing up everything. Just ripping everything up in its sight,” a helicopter pilot told CNN affiliate KFOR, referencing a tornado near Wellston, Okla. “…Everything was just gone. Like you took the house, you put it in a gigantic blender, you turned it on pulse for a couple minutes and then you just dumped it out.”
The state was littered with debris from damaged houses, trailers, and vehicles. About 300 homes were in ruins and at least 23 people were injured, according to Fallin and Red Cross spokesman Ken Garcia.
Ethan Mignard, a staffer at a local newspaper, told CNN’s iReport that the damage looked like something he had only ever seen on TV. In some areas, patches of dirt remained where mobile homes once stood, and children’s toys were littered across the ground and hanging from trees. Mignard even came across a plot of land with nothing remaining but the front steps to a house that is now gone.
“It looks so out of place… To think that you would have taken these stairs to enter a home, but instead, you look around from up there and you see total destruction everywhere,” he said.
Counties across Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri were all placed under tornado watches late Sunday, and are expected to experience more damage.
“After over 300 reports of severe weather on Sunday, another round of dangerous severe weather is expected Monday with the greatest threat once again in the southern Plains targeting Oklahoma and parts of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas,” the National Weather Service reported. “However, severe weather is possible much further north towards Chicago and Madison as well.”
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