Heartbreak in Oklahoma

Posted: 5/20/2013 6:45:06 EDT
      

Death Toll Revised to At Least 24

MOORE, Okla. (AP) — The state medical examiner's office has revised the death toll from a tornado in an Oklahoma City suburb to 24 people, including seven children.

Spokeswoman Amy Elliot said Tuesday morning that she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm. Authorities said initially that as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children.

Teams are continuing to search the rubble in Moore, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, after the Monday afternoon tornado.

Grief-Stricken Parents Search for Their Children

MOORE, Okla. (AP) — The parents and guardians stood in the muddy grass outside a suburban Oklahoma City church, listening as someone with a bullhorn called out the names of children who were being dropped off — survivors of a deadly tornado that barreled through their community.

For many families, the ordeal ended in bear hugs and tears of joy as loved ones reunited. Others were left to wait in the darkness, hoping for good news while fearing the worst.

At least 20 children are among the more than 50 reported dead so far in Moore, the Oklahoma City suburb ravaged by Monday's tornado that packed winds of up to 200 mph. The twister reduced one elementary school to a heaping mound of rubble and heavily damaged another while also flattening block after block of homes. Officials said early Tuesday the death toll could rise by as many as 40.

At St. Andrews United Methodist Church, parents stared into the distance as they waited, some holding the hands of young children who were missing siblings.

Tonya Sharp and Deanna Wallace sat at a table in the church's gymnasium waiting for their teenage daughters. As Sharp and Wallace spoke, a line of students walked in.

Wallace spotted her 16-year-old daughter, who came quickly her way and jumped into her mother's arms, pushing her several steps backward in the process. But Sharp didn't see her daughter, a 17-year-old who has epilepsy. She worried her daughter hadn't taken her medicine.

"I don't know where she's at," Sharp said. Later, she went to speak to officials who helped her register so she could be notified as soon as her daughter was found.

Shelli Smith had to walk miles to find her children. She was reunited with her 14-year-old daughter, Tiauna, around 5 p.m. Monday, but hadn't yet seen her 16-year-old son, TJ, since he left for school that morning.

TJ's phone had died, but he borrowed a classmate's phone to tell his mother where he was. However, Smith couldn't get to him due to the roadblocks. So she parked her car and started walking.

It took her three hours, but a little after sunset, she found him. She grabbed her son and squeezed him in a tight hug that lasted for several seconds before letting go. TJ hugged his sister, and then hugged his mom again.

The family had a long walk back to their car and then home, but she said she didn't mind.

"I was trying to get him and they wouldn't let me," she said, adding later: "I was like, 'You know what? I'm going to get my son.'"

Renee Lee summed up the struggle for many parents with multiple children — find the ones who they hadn't yet seen, while calming the younger ones they had with them.

Lee is the mother of two daughters Sydney Walker, 16, and Hannah Lee, 8. When the storm came, she tried to pick Sydney up from school. Sydney told her on the phone that they wouldn't let her come in. While Lee and her younger daughter waited in their home, which wasn't hit, Sydney was safe in the room at a local high school.

Lee said she believed Sydney wasn't hurt and seemed resigned to the severe weather outbreaks.

"There's been so many of them, it doesn't even faze me," she said. "You just do what you gotta do. It's part of living here."

____

Associated Press reporters Jeannie Nuss and Chuck Bartels in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

Is Global Warming Causing More Twisters?

A deadly tornado hit suburban Oklahoma City on Monday. A quick look at some basic facts:

Q. Is global warming to blame?

A. You can't blame a single weather event on global warming. In any case, scientists just don't know whether there will be more or fewer twisters as global warming increases. Tornadoes arise from very local conditions, and so they're not as influenced by climate change as much as larger weather systems like hurricanes and nor'easters. They're not easy to incorporate in the large computer simulations scientists use to gauge the impact of global warming.

And when scientists ponder the key weather ingredients that lead to twisters, there's still no clear answer about whether to expect more or fewer twisters. Some scientists theorize that the jet stream is changing because sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking. And the jet stream pattern drives weather in the Northern Hemisphere.

Q. How does this tornado season stack up against previous ones?

A. The season got off to a quiet start this year. Typically, there are more during spring, and the numbers dwindle in the worst heat of the summer. An unusually cool spring kept the funnel clouds at bay until mid-May this year. The last two seasons illustrate the extremes in tornado activity. In 2011, the United States saw its second-deadliest tornado season. Last year, it was busy in April but there were few twisters after that.

Q. What happened in Oklahoma?

A. The tornado destroyed an elementary school and flattened neighborhoods with winds up to 200 miles an hour. The National Weather Service made a preliminary ranking of the twister as an EF4, the second-most-powerful classification.

Q. How did it form?

A. Like the most destructive and deadly tornadoes, this one came from a rotating thunderstorm. The thunderstorm developed in an area where warm moist air rose into cooler air. Winds in the area caused the storm to rotate, and that rotation promoted the development of a tornado.

Tornado Survivors Share Their Stories

Video: Epic Devastation in Moore, Okla.

Is 2013 Worse Than 1999?

Hard-hit Moore, Okla., was among those hit by the strongest tornado ever recorded 14 years ago. Charlie Rose takes a look back at the 1999 tornado, and compares it to the scene of destruction after yesterday's massive storm.

Raw Video: See Tornadoes From the Air

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