Medical examiner: 9 kids, 15 adults dead in Oklahoma twister

Credit: Getty Images

SHAWNEE, OK - MAY 20: Candice Lopez (L) and Stephanie Davis help clean debris from Thelma Cox's mobile home after it was destroyed by a tornado May 20, 2013 near Shawnee, Oklahoma. A series of tornados moved across central Oklahoma May 19, killing two people and injuring at least 21. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

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by The Associated Press / WCNC.com Staff

WCNC.com

Posted on May 20, 2013 at 5:15 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 11 at 9:01 PM

MOORE, Okla.  -- Emergency crews combed the sticks and rubble remains of an Oklahoma City suburb Tuesday morning less than a day after a massive tornado slammed through the community, flattening homes and demolishing an elementary school.

The Medical Examiner confirms 24 fatalities, of which nine are children, and those numbers are expected to climb.

As the sun rose over the shattered community of Moore, the state medical examiner's office cut the estimated death toll by more than half.

(Click here to view photos from the scene)

Spokeswoman Amy Elliot said she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm that struck Monday afternoon. Downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem, she said.

"It was a very eventful night," Elliot said. "I truly expect that they'll find more today.”

Authorities initially said as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children.

New search-and-rescue teams moved in as dawn broke Tuesday, taking over from the 200 or so emergency responders who scoured the neighborhood all night with a helicopter shining a spotlight from above to aid their search.

Fire Chief Gary Bird said the fresh teams would search the whole community at least two more times to ensure that no survivors -- or victims -- were missed. They were painting an `X' on each structure to note it had been checked.

"That is to confirm we have done our due diligence for this city, for our citizens," Bird said.

By early Tuesday, the community of 41,000 people, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, braced for another long, harrowing day.

"As long as we are here ... we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors," said Trooper Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children.

Search and rescue teams continued their desperate efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm ripped off the school's roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she watched up close late Monday as rescuers tried to find people in the wreckage of the school.

"It was massive destruction last night," Fallin said in an AP interview Tuesday. "It was an incredible sight to see how big the debris field was and how much destruction there was. It would be remarkable for anyone to survive.”

Children from the school were among the dead, but several students were pulled out alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage center in the parking lot. Some students looked dazed, others terrified.

Officials were still trying to account for a handful of children not found at the school who may have gone home early with their parents, Bird said Tuesday.

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

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. It estimated that the twister was at least half a mile wide.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., forecast more stormy weather Tuesday, predicting golf ball-sized hail, powerful winds and isolated, strong tornadoes in parts of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The area at risk does not include Moore.

In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen marching slowly across the green landscape. As it churned through the community, the twister scattered shards of wood, awnings and glass all over the streets.

Monday's powerful tornado loosely followed the path of a killer twister that slammed the region with 300 mph winds in May 1999. It was the fourth tornado to hit Moore since 1998. It also 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.

Hospitals treat more than 200 after Okla. tornado

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Hospital officials say they've treated more than 200 patients, including dozens of children, since a tornado ripped through suburban Oklahoma City.  

About 20 patients remained at one hospital Tuesday, but it wasn't clear how many patients remained hospitalized at another facility. 

Spokeswoman Brooke Cayot (KAY'-ot) says Integris Southwest Medical Center has seen 90 patients, including five children who have been released. About 20 people remain hospitalized there. 

OU Medical Center spokesman Scott Coppenbarger says 85 people, including 50 children, came to his hospital and an affiliated children's hospital for treatment. He does not know how many have been released. 

St. Anthony Hospital spokeswoman Sandra Payne says her hospital and two regional facilities have seen 35 patients, including 14 children. Thirty-two patients have been released. Three children were transferred elsewhere.

Local help is on the way to Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. – Sixteen-year-old Jacob Entrekin and his family drove all the way from small town Sumner, Georgia to take part in the All-Star Race festivities last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Entrekin, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, says Saturday was the best day of his life. Entrekin and his family got their wish granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Carolina.
 
The day started with a tour of driver Marcos Ambrose's hauler. Ambrose is Entrekin's favorite driver. Next, Jacob made his way to the Champions parking lot, where he met NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty.

Petty is Jacob's idol, after the teen heard of the King's recovery from a serious accident in 1962. The owner of Richard Petty Motor Sports signed a diecast replica of his 43 STP and even posed for pictures with Entrekin and his family.

Petty said, "It just makes you feel good to see a little impact and influence that you've had on other people's lives. When you have a kid like this come in and want to be part of your family, basically, there's no better feeling than that."
 
Just when Entrekin couldn't possibly think the day could get any better, RPM officials told Jacob he'd get to watch the race from the pit stall of his favorite driver, Marcos Ambrose. Entrekin, mom Shanna, dad Tony and little brother Aaron made their way to pit road. When they arrived, Ambrose came over and talked pre-race strategies with Jacob and little brother.

Entrekin also was presented with a special set of lug nuts and when the race was red flagged due to rain; he and Ambrose got their shot at National TV, when a SPEED reporter spoke to both during the All-Star Race broadcast.
 
Entrekin says the whole experience was "awesome!"

He went on to add, "Why would I want to be anywhere else? It's Mr. Petty, the King of NASCAR, who doesn't like the King of NASCAR? I was nervous my heart was beating ninety to nothing."

Tony Entrekin spoke of his son's experience, saying that watching his son's wish come true was liTwo faith-based organizations are joining forces to offer aide to help disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma.

A handful of members with the Billy Graham Rapid Response team have since arrived, having left Monday night to assess area needs.

The mobile unit is schedule to depart for the two-day journey and will join forces with other groups to offer spiritual support.

"Initially when they are experiencing the shock they are going though right now, our purpose is really having a ministry of presence," say Jack Munday, International Director for the Billy Graham Rapid Response team.

"We are there to facilitate their needs, that could be anywhere from giving them a bottle of water to being a listener for hours," he said.

The trailer en-route to Oklahoma was last deployed to New York for 8 days to help victim of Hurricane Sandy.

Munday says the team is made up of crisis-trained chaplain. A third of its members are former first-responders with fire, police and EMS.

"Not to say they have all the answers, but they have the experience working with people in a very difficult situation," he said.

"Pictures don't do justice in what is actually going on in the hearts of people," said Munday.

The unit will head first to the town of Shawnee, one of the towns devastated from a tornado over the weekend.

Volunteers with Samaritan's Purse packed a tractor trailer full of supplies and left the organization's disaster relief headquarters in North Wilkesboro at dawn Tuesday morning.

Marty Cottrell, fleet mechanic with the group says no matter how many disaster he responds to, "you never get use to seeing this."

He says volunteers are also asking for prayers so they are mentally and physically prepared to handled to challenges.

"I spend a lot of time in prayer because that's where it starts," he said.

The organization supplies tools and equipment to help victims clean-up and rebuild their homes.

The tractor was filled with supplies like chainsaws, shop-vacs, generators, and tarps to cover damaged roofs.

Many volunteers are already in Hood County Texas, helping victims from last week's tornado.

Samaritan's Purse was in Moore Oklahoma when a tornado destroyed more than a thousand homes in 1999. The group will also work together with chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.

He added, "When you have a child that has a terminal illness, you look for joy where ever you can find it… He does struggle a lot, maybe a different kind of struggle, it's not driving a race car, but it's driving his life and I want him to do good and finish good." 

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