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Death Toll in Oklahoma Lowered to 24; Search for Survivors Continues

Tornado Outbreak Slams Through Oklahoma
Philip Gotcher and his daughter Monica stand in the rubble of his house after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Officials in Oklahoma have lowered the number of deaths suffered to 24 in the massive tornado that swept through the town of Moore Monday night. Originally, the figure had been as high as 51, probably a result of double-counting.

However, that number could still rise as the search for survivors amid the rubble goes on. The swath of destruction is so huge, it could be a long time before everyone is accounted for.

“The whole city looks like a debris field,” said Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore. “It looks like we have lost our hospital. I drove by there a while ago and it’s pretty much destroyed.”

On the ‘Today’ show Tuesday morning, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said, “It’s absolutely huge. It’s horrific. It looked like somebody set off something that destroyed structures. Not blocks, but miles.”

Much of the search operation’s focus remains on Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was completely destroyed by a direct hit from the tornado. At least seven children who were in the school at the time died in the destruction, though many more were pulled alive from the debris afterward. Among the at least 145 people who have been reported as injured, 70 are children. Both of those numbers are expected to rise.

On Monday night, President Obama declared the area a disaster zone, freeing up federal aid to start flowing for recovery and rescue operations. He addressed the nation Tuesday morning: “The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes. 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.”

[Reuters, NBC, N.Y. Times]

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