The people in Oklahoma are still in shock and trying to pick up the pieces (literally) of their shattered lives after a horrifically large tornado ripped through the suburbs of Oklahoma City, destroying nearly everything in its wake. There have so far been 24 confirmed deaths, nine of them children (downgraded from an erroneous count of 91). The twister tore through two elementary schools, a hospital, and countless homes. Here's what we know so far.
- The twister was two miles wide and 17 miles long. The hardest hit town was Moore, Oklahoma, which has a population of 56,000.
- The area had already suffered two previous big tornadoes, in 1999 and 2003. Moore was hit by the same size tornado in 1999. That one killed 50 people. Schools were already out, so children were spared for the most part. That storm hit five states and lasted three days. The Oklahoman's headline was, "Worse Than May 3," the day the 1999 twister struck.
- At least 230 people are injured, 60 of them children. At least 100 people were pulled alive out of the wreckage.
- Terrified children at the Briarwood Elementary School cowered with their backpacks over their heads and asked, "Is this really happening?" as the twister bore down on them. Despite receiving a "direct hit", there are no reported fatalities.
- The schools, despite the area's history with killer tornadoes, do not have safe rooms.
- As of last night, there were still at least two dozen children missing in Moore. But today, authorities say that they are "98 percent" sure there are no more missing people or bodies unaccounted for. Several children are still missing, but authorities believe they may have gone home early with their parents. However, CNN reported on at least one father who sat outside today waiting for word on his missing third grader.
- The tornado was an EF5, the highest category of tornado. It has winds that blow 200 to 322 miles per hour. Winds in this latest storm reached 210 miles per hour.
- So many volunteers have shown up to help that police have asked people to stay away. Road lanes need to remain clear for emergency personnel.
- Moore, Oklahoma is particularly susceptible to tornadoes due to to its combination of warm moist air and strong wind shear. It also just seems to have, according to meteorologists, "bad luck." Scientists are trying to figure out if global warming is contributing to the violence of tornadoes.
- Tornadoes may not be done yet. The same storm system that created the Oklahoma tornado is headed for southwest Arkansas and northeast Texas, which have tornado, hail, and damaging winds forecasts for Tuesday. A swath from Texas to Indiana could see severe storms, though nothing like what Oklahoma saw.
As someone who lived through Hurricane Sandy and was touched and heartened by the outpouring of generosity and goodwill of the American people, I know that they will get through this with the help of everyone. Here are some ways to help.
Have you been affected by the tornado?
Image via National Guard/Flickr