Huge Tornado Flattens Towns Near Oklahoma City [Updated]

Preliminary reports from the National Weather Service classify the mile-wide tornado as an EF-4, with winds greater than 200 mph.

A massive tornado devastated suburbs south of Oklahoma City Monday afternoon, and rescue workers continue to search for people trapped by debris. Local TV stations are reporting multiple fatalities throughout the area. [UPDATED: The Oklahoma City medical examiner’s office says 24 bodies have been recovered as of Tuesday morning. That number could still rise.]

Preliminary reports from the National Weather Service classify the mile-wide tornado as an EF-4 (the second highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita scale), with winds greater than 200 mph. The White House has offered the state all possible federal help.

Emergency workers in Moore, Okla., are currently searching for third graders believed to be trapped in Plaza Towers Elementary school, which was destroyed by the tornado. [UPDATED: At 7:30 p.m. ET, KFOR journalist Lance West reported that it is now a recovery mission at the elementary school, and workers are searching for the bodies of about 24 children.] All of the school’s fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade students are believed to be accounted for.

Video from earlier today showed a building on fire in Moore, amid block after block of flattened homes and businesses. On May 3, 1999, the same suburb was hit by an F5 tornado that killed 41 people and spawned wind gusts up to 318 mph. (The EF scale replaced the Fujita scale as the preferred measurement of tornado strength in the United States in 2007.)

The storm knocked out power at the Draper Water Treatment Plant, and residents of southeast Oklahoma City should not drink tap water until further notice. [UPDATED: The City of Oklahoma City announced via Twitter that water quality was not affected by the power outage and the water supply is safe to drink.]

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