EF5 OK Tornado Called 40 Minutes Of Terror

9:21 PM, May 21, 2013   |    comments
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Moore, OK-- Grim-faced police officers and sheriff's deputies guarded darkened intersections in Moore, OK Monday night, their boots crunching on the twisted debris left by a gigantic tornado that ripped apart this suburb of Oklahoma City and left dozens dead, many of them schoolchildren.

Early Tuesday morning, the smell of smoke still hung in the air, a lingering reminder of the numerous fires that broke out during the worst tornado to hit this area since 1999, when 318 mph winds killed 36 people, injured hundreds and caused $1 billion in damage.

"You can't fathom it unless you put your eyes on it," said Greg Harmon, 46, chief of the Fairview Fire Department. "We're seeing foundations that have been completely cleaned, two houses smashed onto each other. You see total destruction on one side of the street and houses on the other that aren't really touched."

Fairview is about 120 miles northwest of Moore. Harmon and five other volunteers answered Monday's call for help. "We wanted to do whatever we could," Harmon said. "That's the bottom line."

Numerous charities also swung into action Monday night, delivering food and water for first responders, but the scale of devastation is enormous.

Portions of picket fences lay scattered carelessly across once-green lawns now covered in mud and chunks of wood. Garage doors have been ripped from their hinges, cars dented by flying debris.

Entire blocks of homes have been erased, reduced to awkward piles of rubble wrapped around cars and trees. In places, toilets sit, gleaming white, amid the muddy debris.

Harmon's team said they found one refrigerator that had been filled with home insulation - the storm apparently whipped open the door, stuffed it with fiberglass and then blew shut the door again.

Along S.W. 19th Street west of Interstate 35, power lines dangled above sidewalks, and multiple businesses showed major damage, including shattered windows and broken signs.

There was no electrical power throughout the night, and the roar of generators filled the humid night air as occasional flashes of lightning illuminated the sky.

At 5 a.m. Tuesday, dozens of firefighters were picking through the remains of the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Firefighters said they had been told three children were still unaccounted for there. Tossing crumbled bricks and shattered windows aside, firefighters dug down into the school's wreckage.

"You have your own kids, and you want to find other people's kids and for it all to be OK," said firefighter Russ Locke, tearing up. "And sometimes it doesn't work out like that."

Few homes in the neighborhood surrounding Plaza Towers had tornado shelters.

All around the school, other rescuers went back time and time again to flattened homes, double-checking, triple-checking.

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