At least 51 dead after massive Okla. tornado

Updated 11:52 p.m.

OKLAHOMA CITY The Oklahoma City Medical Examiner said at least 51 people died, including children, when a powerful, 200-mph tornado ripped through the area Monday. The death toll is expected to climb.

Two hospitals confirmed they were treating a total of 140 injured individuals, including at least 50 hurt children. The Moore City Police Department said it was impossible to put a final number on fatalities because there was still so much area to search. According to Reuters, rescue workers are still looking for about 2 dozen kids who are unaccounted for.

"Our hearts are broken for parents who are wondering about the state of their children," said Gov. Mary Fallin at a Monday evening emergency press conference.

The twister, one of several created by a storm system that swept through the nation's midsection the past two days, reduced homes and building to rubble in Moore, Okla., south of Oklahoma City. An elementary school, a high school, a movie theater and a hospital were among buildings hard hit. President Obama signed a major disaster declaration for the area.

A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.
A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers Monday, May 20, 2013.
AP Photo Sue Ogrocki

CBS affiliate KWTV reported emergency personnel pulled several children out of the rubble after rushing to Plaza Towers Elementary school in Moore, where several children are still missing. The building was in the direct line of the tornado's path and was destroyed. Briarwood Elementary was also damaged, and all the children there were accounted for.

One woman told CBS News affiliate KWTV she and her two children survived by hiding in the bathtub of their home.  "Everything is gone," she said through tears. "Our whole house is gone. Everything except for where we were was gone."

One emergency responder on the scene told Werner he helped a couple of individuals with lacerations on the back and head, as well as an individual with a spine injury.

"People are crawling from everywhere and anywhere," he said. "It's basically just a war zone.

Reporting from Moore, correspondent Anna Werner said people appeared to be in shock as they emerged from their splintered homes.

"There are a couple of people doing the only thing they can do, which is sit in their chairs on their front lawn," Werner said.

The Oklahoma City area also experienced difficulties with cell phone communication and many calls weren't going through. Gov. Fallin said AT&T would be coming in to help the situation.

The White House said President Barack Obama called Gov. Fallin to express his concern about the monstrous tornado and say 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.

Moore was hit hard by a tornado in 1999 that killed 36 people. The storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth's surface.

Severe weather in Oklahoma on Sunday, particularly in the city of Shawnee, caused two deaths and at least 21 injuries. Earlier Monday, spokeswoman Amy Elliot of the Oklahoma state medical examiner's office identified the two people confirmed dead from Sunday's storms as 79-year-old Glen Irish and 76-year-old Billy Hutchinson. Both men were from Shawnee.

Tornadoes were also reported Sunday in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma as part of a storm system that stretched from Texas to Minnesota. Gov. Fallin has declared a state of emergency in 16 counties across the state.

The powerful system spawned baseball-sized hail, and winds strong enough to flip over tractor trailers, littering them across a major interstate, reports Werner.

Forecasters had been warning of bad weather since last Wednesday and on Sunday said conditions had ripened for powerful tornadoes. Wall-to-wall broadcasts of storm information spread the word, leaving Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth grateful.

"There was a possibility a lot more people could have been injured," Booth said. "This is the worst I've seen in Pottawatomie County in my 25 years of law enforcement."

Since Sunday, local emergency officials have been going from home site to home site in an effort to account for everyone. Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said that many times in such situations, people who are not found immediately are discovered later to have left the area ahead of the storm.

A storm spotter told the National Weather Service that the tornado in Shawnee left the earth "scoured" at the mobile home park. At the nearby intersection of Interstate 40 and U.S. 177, a half-dozen tractor-trailers were blown over, closing both highways for a time.

A tornado rips through the Oklahoma City area Monday afternoon
A tornado rips through the Oklahoma City area Monday afternoon

In Wichita, Kan., a tornado touched down near Mid-Content Airport on the city's southwest side shortly before 4 p.m., knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses but bypassing the most populated areas of Kansas' biggest city. The Wichita tornado was an EF1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with winds of 110 mph, according to the weather service.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Randy Duncan said there were no reports of fatalities or injuries in Kansas.

There were also two reports of tornadoes touching down in Iowa on Sunday night, including one near Huxley, about 20 miles north of Des Moines, and one in Grundy County, which is northeast of Des Moines, according to the Des Moines Register. Six mobile homes in Earlham were damaged. Downed power lines have left about 11,000 homes and business without power across the state.