UPDATE: The state medical examiner’s office said 24 people were confirmed dead, including nine children. Earlier reports of at least 51 deaths were erroneous, said Amy Elliot, chief administrative officer for the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
At least 100 people have been pulled alive from the rubble by rescuers.
By Gary Tuchman, George Howell and Holly Yan, CNN
Moore, Oklahoma (CNN)–Clinging to the hope of finding more survivors, rescue workers scoured mountains of rubble Tuesday where houses and schools once stood.
But as they searched through the night and Tuesday morning, the sobering death toll continued to climb in this city far too familiar with nature’s wrath.
The vicious tornado that ripped across central Oklahoma on Monday killed at least 51 people — with about 40 more bodies expected to arrive at the Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office, Amy Elliott of the coroner’s office said. Roughly half of the expected bodies are children.
The official death toll will gradually rise from 51 as each of the bodies are processed, Elliott said.
Already, at least 20 of those killed were children, including seven from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore — the site of a frantic search Tuesday morning.
The school was in the direct path of the storm’s fury. About 75 students and staff members hunkered down in Plaza Towers when the tornado hit, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.
At one point, an estimated 24 children were missing from the school, but some later turned up at nearby churches. It’s unclear how many may still be trapped in the wreckage, and how many are dead or alive.
A father of a third-grader still missing sat quietly on a stool outside. Tears cascaded from his face as he waited for any news.
Even parents of survivors couldn’t wrap their minds around the tragedy.
“I’m speechless. How did this happen? Why did this happen?” Norma Bautista asked. “How do we explain this to the kids? … In an instant, everything’s gone.”
Across town, Moore Medical Center also fell victim to the tornado.
“Our hospital has been devastated,” Mayor Glenn Lewis said. “We had a two-story hospital, now we have a one. And it’s not occupiable.”
So 145 people were rushed to three other area hospitals.
That number includes 45 children taken to the children’s hospital at Oklahoma University Medical Center, Dr. Roxie Albrecht said. Injuries ranged from minor to severe, including impalement and crushing injuries.
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