Search and rescue crews are still at work in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, the capital of the central U.S. state of Oklahoma, after a tornado with winds of 320 kilometers an hour caused massive destruction late Monday.
At least 24 people, including seven children, were killed, and authorities say they expect the number of fatalities to climb. Scores of people were injured.
The tornado demolished a primary school and reduced homes in the path of the storm to piles of splintered wood. Rescue workers pulled several children alive out of the rubble of two schools that were hit.
Oklahoma’s governor deployed the state National Guard and extra police to assist with rescue operations.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the state as a result of the storm. He ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide any assistance that Oklahoma needs. Addressing journalists Tuesday morning in Washington, Mr. Obama promised that the national government would stay with the people of Moore for as long as it takes.
“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes,” Mr. Obama said. “There are homes and schools to rebuild, businesses and hospitals to reopen, parents to console, first responders to comfort, and, of course, frightened children who will need our continued love and attention. There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms and classrooms and in time we’re going to need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community.”
The National Weather Service said the magnitude of the tornado was an F-4, the second most-powerful type of tornado on the five-level scale that measures a storm's destructive power.
Moore, Oklahoma was also hit hard by a deadly tornado in 1999. Monday’s tornado is the deadliest in the United States since 2011, when a storm in the community of Joplin, Missouri killed 161 people.
Zimbabwean Nurse Describes Sheltering From a Tornado
Marjorie Sagonda is a Zimbabwean working as a nurse at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Oklahoma City. Ms. Sagonda said some of the victims from the disaster in Moore were brought to her hospital for treatment. In an interview with Studio 7, she described where people typically shelter themselves when tornadoes strike.
Marjorie Sagonda: “Where I am now at work is about 11 miles from where it happened.”
Studio 7: “What kind of disaster preparedness does [Oklahoma City] have?”
Marjorie Sagonda: “There are many different ways of getting clear. If you don’t have a shelter, which is actually a room with concrete, no windows, then you go to the inner part of your house, like a bathroom, which is surrounded by walls, no windows. And if there’s a tub, you get into the tub, and you take, like, a mattress and you cover yourself. Or you get in the closet. But there are shelters, like in hospital. We moved some of the patients downstairs, hoping when [the tornado] comes it will hit the lower floors, leave the upper floors, and move on. But the houses in Moore, they don’t have basements. Not everybody had a shelter. They are one level. So when it came through, it just picked up everything—cars, houses, people, you name it. Cars on top of trees, some of them landed in people’s bedrooms. Of course there are no bedrooms now the walls are gone. So if you have a cellar you are supposed to register. So for those who registered…unfortunately, when the tornado came, it swept everything, so there were no landmarks, so people had just gone, just wandering, hoping they’ll hear a noise or something.
Studio 7: Do you know if there were any Zimbabweans that live in the area that was heavily affected in Moore?
Marjorie Sagonda: “No. Most of the Zimbabweans are in Edmond [another community that is part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area]. There are very few Zimbabweans in Oklahoma. I think there are less than 30, and they are mostly in Edmond.”
A tornado, often referred to as a twister, is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most devastating tornadoes can cause enormous destruction, with wind speeds approaching 500 kilometers per hour. These storms can destroy large buildings, uproot trees and hurl vehicles long distances. Damage paths can be more than one kilometer wide to 80 kilometers long.
Tornadoes have been seen on every continent except Antarctica, but most of them occur in what is known as Tornado Alley in the United States. That region includes Oklahoma and other states in central and southeastern areas of the country.