Oklahoma tornado leaves dozens dead, thousands homeless
CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 5/31/2013, 12:06 p.m.
The nation is rallying behind America's heartland and the suburban community of Moore, Okla., where an EF5 tornado struck, leaving devastation in its path. As of Wednesday, the death toll from the storm remained at 24, including children, and nearly 240 injured.
Weather officials said the tornado was one of the most powerful on record. The twister reportedly touched down around 2:45 p.m. on Monday. Measuring at a whopping 1.3 miles, the tornado stayed on the ground for 50 minutes, traveling 17 miles before dying down.
The tornado left thousands homeless in what is known nationally as "Tornado Ally." Warm air from the Southern Gulf and cold air from the north make for strong storms and severe weather known all too well among residents in the nation's midsection, including Oklahoma.
"We will rebuild, and we will regain our strength," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said. "It's a sad time for us again as we've experienced the most horrific storms and disasters that this state has ever faced. In the midst of tragedy and loss of life, we've also seen the resilience and courage and strength of our people. We will get through this."
Fallin declared a state of emergency on Monday, deploying the Oklahoma National Guard. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the state and offered federal aid to the affected. He is expected to visit Oklahoma on Sunday.
"Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need," said Obama, "because we're a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes. We've seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa; we saw that spirit in Boston and Breezy Point. And that's what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now."
Close to 2,400 homes have been lost, leaving 10,000 people affected by the tornado. Aerial views of the storm's devastation shows flattened homes, uprooted trees and mounds of debris. The scene is reminiscent of the destruction left behind by Hurricane Sandy in New York.
Along the path of the tornado were two schools that were destroyed. Reports indicate that students at Briarwood Elementary School and Plaza Towers Elementary School were preparing to leave for the day when the tornado hit. Nine children at the schools were killed during the storm.
One of the first children identified on Wednesday was 9-year-old Ja'Nae Hornsby, a third-grader from Plaza Towers School, who was among those found dead after the tornado. Her parents found out the horrifying news when they identified her body at the medical examiner's office.
"She was a beautiful child to be around, someone you feel privileged to know," her father, Joshua Hornsby, said during a televised interview on Wednesday. "She did well in school. She was just awesome."
Initially recorded as an EF4, winds reaching up to 210 miles per hour elevated the storm to an EF5--the highest level for a tornado on the Fujita scale, which measures such storms. Experts have stated that the impact of the storm was 600 times greater than an atomic bomb.
More than 100 people were pulled from the rubble after rescue teams ended their search for survivors on Wednesday. Around 62,000 people in the area remain without power.
FEMA has more than 400 personnel on the ground supporting the response, including three national urban search and rescue teams, an incident management assistance team, as well as personnel focused on helping survivors register for and receive the federal assistance.