U.S. search and rescue crews are digging for survivors in several kilometers of wreckage, after a massive tornado leveled neighborhoods Monday in the central U.S. state of Oklahoma, killing at least 24 people.
Oklahoma officials say they have recovered 24 bodies since the tornado devastated the town of Moore, a suburb of the state capital, Oklahoma City. The suburb of Newcastle was also hit.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in Oklahoma following the storm. He ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide any assistance the state needs. He said the nation's full focus right now is on "the urgent work of rescue and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead."
"The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground there for them, beside them, as long as it takes, for their are homes and school to rebuild; businesses and hospitals to reopen; there are parents to console, first responders to comfort and of course frightened children who will need our continued love and attention."
The tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City suburbs with winds of 320 kilometers an hour, demolishing an elementary school and reducing homes to piles of splintered wood.
In addition to the confirmed deaths, at least 240 people were reported injured. Many of the victims are children.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has deployed the state National Guard and extra police to assist with rescue operations. She said "hearts are broken'' for parents looking for their children. Rescue workers pulled several children alive out of the rubble of two schools that were hit.
The National Weather Service said the magnitude of this tornado was an EF-4, the second most-powerful type of twister on the five-level scale that measures a storm's destructive power.
Moore, Oklahoma was hit hard by another deadly tornado in 1999.
"What they can be certain of is that American from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts, to those in need because we are a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes."
"Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today. And we will back up those prayers with deeds as long as it takes."