— MOORE, Okla. — A tornado that was described as “absolutely horrific” blazed a path of destruction across this Oklahoma southeast community that now has felt Mother’s Nature’s most powerful punch several times in the past 20 years.
Although no deaths have been reported, Gov. Mary Fallin said, “It would be a miracle if people didn’t get harmed.”
She and others responding to the tragedy were especially worried about an elementary school where it was believed some students remained inside as a precaution as the storm hit. The building sustained major damage and responders were beginning to haul away debris and conduct a search-and-rescue mission.
Winds across Moore reached 200 miles per hour at the height of the storm, and weather station observers said the tornado will be rated as F4 or perhaps higher.
So devastating was the tornado that multiple homes were swept from their foundations. Adding to the difficulty of the effort was an inability for police, fire and first-aid teams to get to the hardest hit areas because streets in all directions were covered with trees, roofing materials, twisted cars, furniture and mounds of bricks. Interstate 35 was shut down and traffic was backed up to Norman.
Firefighters also were battling fires that were set off when gas lines erupted. “It looked like a burning war zone,” one person observed.
Many Moore residents were at work when the storm hit and couldn’t return home. Electricity lines were down and communication was extremely limited.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol issued an emergency call for all first-responders to come to Moore.
Moore, a community of 55,000, is located south of Oklahoma City. It was the site of a tornado in 1993 where experts say that winds reached 300 miles per hour -- the most ferocious in American history. More than 40 people died in that calamity. Another tornado hit in 2003.
Monday’s storm struck at about 3 p.m. (Central time), at a time when schools were letting out, and carved up the area for about 40 minutes. In its wake a “debris ball,” that observers said measured about two miles by three miles remade the community's growing suburban landscape.
The community’s hospital also faced the full force of the storm, although triage units were being set up near a new movie complex to help those with injuries. It also sustained damage. Officials said those more seriously injured would be taken to a hospital in Norman, the home of the University of Oklahoma.
Earlier reports said some people sustained “punch-line injuries” associated with flying debris. Many were spotted bleeding.
Oklahoma's worries are far from over. Other tornadoes were expected elsewhere as the bad weather tracked to the northeast. Tuesday, the National Weather Service has outlined an area from Texas up to the Great Lakes as potential storm targets.
Details for this story were provided by Oklahoma government officials, The Norman Transcript and The Associated Press.