Moore, Oklahoma tornado death toll rises to 51, including at least 20 children

51 killed and over 140 hurt

MOORE, Oklahoma - At least 20 children and 31 others were killed by a massive tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma Monday afternoon with winds of up to 200 mph. More than 120 others were hurt by the twister.

Medical examiner spokeswoman Amy Elliott confirmed the children's deaths Monday night.

CNN later reported the medical examiner's office said they'd been told to expect about 40 more bodies.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says "hearts are broken" for parents wondering about the fate of their children after a tornado devastated the southern suburb of Oklahoma City. Officials say the search and rescue effort will continue throughout the night.

Fallin said during a Monday news conference that a center for those seeking loved ones has been set up at a church in Moore. The tornado, which started forming around 2 p.m. MST, flattened entire neighborhoods and destroyed an elementary school with a direct hit.

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in the area, sending federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

Seven children’s bodies have been removed from Plaza Towers Elementary School, and rescuers believe 20 to 30 more children may be inside, but do not believe there are any more survivors, according to KFOR in Oklahoma City.

Several children were pulled out of the rubble alive earlier but KFOR reports the rescue effort at the elementary school has converted from a search and rescue mission to a recovery effort.

Dozens of firefighters and first responders are at the school, now an unrecognizable mangled heap of rubble.

Students who were in Plaza Towers Elementary told reporters that they were hugging and clinging to the walls of their school as the tornado passed over.

-- View a gallery of images from the tornado and the aftermath:

KFOR reported that also killed in the storm are a 7-month-old girl, her mother and two other adults who had tried to seek shelter in an oversized freezer.

Block after block of the community lay in ruins, with heaps of debris piled up where homes used to be. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.

Entire areas were seen blown apart, with shards of wood and pieces of insulation strewn everywhere. Television footage also showed first responders picking through rubble and twisted metal looking for survivors.

The National Weather Service issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, the second most-powerful type of twister.

 -- To see the amazing raw video on your mobile device:

Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.

"We heard the alarm go off, saying basically, 'Citizens of Moore, you need to get inside your house and go to your shelters.' So we saw the circulation and went and hid underneath the closet, underneath the stairs," said one witness.

"I was racing home to pick up my wife and get in the door, and I couldn't get in the door when I finally got in the door, it was basically just the tornado pushing us in .. And it buried us, and I guess it was probably 30
minutes later somebody finally came and got us," said one Moore resident. "There's nothing left. Nothing. House is gone."

"All the way to the ground, " the man's wife added.

"Her car looks like it's been run through a meat grinder, and I can't find my truck. I don't know where it is."

The White House says President Obama told Oklahoma's governor that he's directed the government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide any assistance she needs. FEMA has sent a special team to Oklahoma's emergency operations center to help out and dispatch resources.

The suburb of Moore was hit hard by a tornado on May 3, 1999. That storm killed 41 people, hurt hundreds, and caused $1 billion in damage. It had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth's surface.  Winds in that 1999 storm were clocked at 300 mph.

Monday's tornado loosely followed the path of that killer twister, which is unusual, according to Kelsey Angle, a weather service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo.  Angle said less than 1 percent of all tornadoes reach a EF-4 or EF-5.

Monday's devastation in Oklahoma came almost exactly two years after an enormous twister ripped through the city of Joplin, Mo., killing 158 people and injuring hundreds more.

That May 22, 2011, tornado was the deadliest in the United States since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before Joplin, the deadliest modern tornado was June 1953 in Flint, Mich., when 116 people died.

The National Weather Service placed parts of five storm-battered states -- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas -- under a tornado watch Monday afternoon.

On Sunday, a tornado packing winds as high as 200 mph, left two people dead in Oklahoma. Tornadoes and high winds injured more than 20 in the region.

The body of 79-year-old Glen Irish was found in an open area of the neighborhood after a twister slammed into Shawnee, Oklahoma, leveling a mobile home park.

The Oklahoma medical examiner on Monday confirmed the second fatality, Billy Hutchinson, 76.

Both victims were from Shawnee, but it was not immediately clear if both lived in the Steelman Mobile Home Park, which was destroyed.

-- A map comparing the twisters, with information from WDT, Inc.:

View Moore, Okla. Tornado Paths in a larger map

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