News / USA

Dozens Dead as Massive Tornado Hits Oklahoma

A woman is pulled out from under tornado debris at the Plaza Towers School in Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013.
A woman is pulled out from under tornado debris at the Plaza Towers School in Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013.
Greg Flakus
A tornado with 320 kilometer per hour winds has killed at least 51 people and caused massive destruction in the central U.S. state of Oklahoma, destroying two schools and entire neighborhoods.

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office said the death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers move deeper into the hardest-hit areas.

Loading...

The 1.6 kilometer-wide tornado hit Monday afternoon and destroyed large swaths of Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb, injuring dozens of people, sending debris flying and setting buildings on fire.

Rescue workers have pulled several children alive out of the rubble of the schools.   

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with search-and-rescue operations.

Fallin also spoke with President Barack Obama, who asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide any assistance she needs.

The severe weather outbreak was expected to spread across other parts of the Plains and the Midwest. An earlier tornado killed two people in Oklahoma Sunday.

This combination of AP photos shows left: a neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma in ruins, May 4, 1999, after a tornado flattened many houses and buildings in central Oklahoma, and right: flattened houses in Moore on Monday, May 20, 2013.This combination of AP photos shows left: a neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma in ruins, May 4, 1999, after a tornado flattened many houses and buildings in central Oklahoma, and right: flattened houses in Moore on Monday, May 20, 2013.
x
This combination of AP photos shows left: a neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma in ruins, May 4, 1999, after a tornado flattened many houses and buildings in central Oklahoma, and right: flattened houses in Moore on Monday, May 20, 2013.
This combination of AP photos shows left: a neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma in ruins, May 4, 1999, after a tornado flattened many houses and buildings in central Oklahoma, and right: flattened houses in Moore on Monday, May 20, 2013.
The National Weather Service placed parts of five storm-battered states - Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas - under a tornado watch, meaning conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop.

The same suburb of Oklahoma City was hit hard by a tornado in 1999. That storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the Earth's surface.

A tornado transformed the part of Moore directly in its path from a quiet middle class community into a field of debris. Rescue teams were digging through piles of wrecked wood, twisted metal and other rubble searching for victims who may have been trapped.

Rick Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, just south of Moore, says the danger has not yet passed.

"We are going to be dealing with this for several hours it looks like and then, hopefully, after today it will quiet down for a while," said Smith.

How is a Major Disaster Declared in US?

  • A state's governor determines recovery is beyond the resources of state and local governments
  • FEMA works with the state to assess damage
  • Assessment looks at effect on people and businesses, number of people displaced, threat to public health, impact on infrastructure
  • By declaring a major disaster, the federal government can supplement recovery efforts ad make funding available
  • Assistance includes grants for temporary housing and low-cost loans
Source: White House, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Smith says storms are common at this time of year in Oklahoma and nearby states, an area often called "Tornado Alley." He says the monster tornadoes are the result of humid air close to the ground and wind conditions both near the ground and high up in the atmosphere.

"We have had very strong winds aloft and at the surface that creates what we call wind shear, that makes the storms start to rotate, and then we have had upper level disturbance, a storm system in the upper levels of the atmosphere, that moved out across Oklahoma this afternoon and the storms went from nothing to intense, dangerous storms in less than an hour," he said.

No one can predict exactly where a tornado will come down within the wide area covered by a storm system, but Rick Smith says Storm Prediction Center forecasters do everything possible to warn people.

"We were in close contact with emergency school systems and everything and our forecast and our information indicated that this was going to be as bad or worse than yesterday and it looks like that has definitely been the case," he said.

Tornadoes on Sunday killed two people in communities south and east of Oklahoma City. On Monday, legislators in the state Capitol cancelled sessions and took shelter along with state government employees as the storm clouds passed over the city. A full assessment of death, injury and damage from these tornadoes is likely to take days and the threat of more tornadoes in the area is far from over.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid