Tornado Devastates Oklahoma Town

Rescue crews are on the scene after a powerful twister swept through Moore, Oklahoma, on Monday

May 21, 2013 | By Kelli Plasket with AP reporting

Philip Gotcher stands in the remains of his house in Moore, Oklahoma, after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on Monday, May 20.

Search and rescue crews continued to look for survivors Tuesday morning in the rubble left behind by a monstrous tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma. On Monday afternoon, the half-mile wide twister flattened homes and buildings, crumpled cars, and stripped leaves off trees throughout the suburban town near Oklahoma City. Of its population of 41,000 people, at least 24 were killed, including several children. More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals.

A half-mile-wide tornado, with winds up to 200 miles per hour, sweeps passed homes in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City.
A half-mile-wide tornado, with winds up to 200 miles per hour, sweeps past homes in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

“As long as we are here … we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph told the Associated Press.

President Barack Obama declared the area a major disaster. He ordered federal aid for state and local recovery efforts. Moore “needs to get everything it needs right away,” Obama told reporters at the White House on Tuesday morning. “For all those who’ve been affected, we recognize that you face a long road ahead.”

Powerful Twister

The National Weather Service reports that Monday’s tornado was a category 4— the second-most powerful type of twister—on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. Its winds reached speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. As it approached Moore, sirens blared to warn residents to take shelter. The tornado cut a path through the center of town before moving on. Moore resident Betty Snider told the Associated Press that it was “the loudest roar I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The tornado destroyed many of Moore’s major buildings, including two elementary schools. Most of the students were unharmed. Rescuers pulled many children safely from the debris and reunited them with their parents. Injured students were taken to local hospitals. The Moore Medical Center was also damaged by the tornado. Patients there were transferred to other hospitals.

An Unpredictable Tornado Season

Monday’s twister came one day after a string of tornadoes were reported in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. They were part of a massive storm system stretching throughout the Great Plains and the Midwest. More stormy weather, with possible isolated tornadoes, is forecasted for Tuesday in parts of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The Moore area is not considered at risk.

In the U.S., tornado season typically occurs from April to July. This year, the central U.S. had been experiencing a relatively quiet tornado season until May 15, when an outbreak of 10 twisters struck North-Central Texas. The tornadoes killed six people and injured dozens more.

Tornadoes usually form during giant thunderstorms called supercells. Many tornadoes are black or brown from the dust and dirt they suck up as they move across the land. During a tornado, the National Weather Service advises people to take shelter in a storm cellar, a basement, or the innermost room on the lowest level of a building.

In Moore, Mayor Glenn Lewis told the Associated Press that the town is already working on recovery and cleanup. Lewis was also mayor during a powerful tornado with 300 mile per hour winds that slammed the town in May 1999. “It took 61 days to clean up after the 1999 tornado,” he said. “We had a lot of help then. We’ve got a lot of help now.”