(NBC NEWS) β€” A monster tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs and killed at least 37 people Monday, pulverizing block after block of homes, tearing the walls off an elementary school and leaving behind miles of mangled cars and splintered wood.

Crews frantically searched the wreckage and were only beginning to get a sense of the destruction. Hospitals reported several dozen injured.

β€œThe whole city looks like a debris field,” said Mayor Glenn Lewis of the city of Moore, which appeared to be hardest hit.

At Plaza Towers Elementary School, the tornado tore the roof off, and authorities kept hysterical parents back because it was too loud to hear screams for help. A teacher told NBC affiliate KFOR that she draped herself on top of six children in a bathroom to shelter them.

It was not clear how many children were trapped. Students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade were evacuated to a church, but students in lower grades had sheltered in place, KFOR reported. More than two hours after the tornado struck, several children were pulled out alive.

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